Smoke and Small Talk and Big Listening

Not my smoke…well, some of it’s mine. Wildfires all over the Pacific Northwest have caused simply wretched air quality here in the valley that isn’t even on fire. The haze is starting to clear but we really couldn’t do much outside this weekend (and that is my official story about not getting shit done.)

So I’m here on day 82 according to my phone app which makes me super smart in the absence of useful math skills. It’s going pretty well. Lost another pound due to the not-eating diet. Spouse finally started dropping lbs as well, so there was much rejoicing.

A post by jaded8 made me think about “the art of conversation”. However, I disagree that conversation is an art, I insist that is a skill that anyone with the desire may learn by practice. Those of you who were social drinkers may be experiencing the frustration of trying to talk to people you don’t know (or even the ones you do) without the glib oil of alcohol.

I’ll start with some advice from my favorite Regency lady, Jane Austen:

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault — because I would not take the trouble of practising.”

Now then, I used to be very shy. I know, shut up, it’s hard to believe. But as a child I was the kid who clung onto her mother’s leg and hid my face. This continued through 8th grade (not the leg-clinging, I was way taller than my mom, just the “wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful”)  but I made a change in my life when I entered high school: I joined THE DRAMA CLUB. Yes, I did. I took Drama class all four years which included a whole hell of a lot of improvisation which requires very quick thinking. And I had to be funny, really just HAD TO. Because after you’re funny a few times people have an EXPECTATION of amusing things spewing from you. You are expected to be “funny on cue” as in, “Say something funny!” Ummmm, your face!! WTF? But there it is.

So once I figured out how to EXPOSE myself, if you will, I was no longer fearful of attention. Having said this, I am not really a performer in the sense of needing ALL EYES ON ME, SPOT LIGHT ON MEEEEEEE. I’m an extrovert, but I’m not an exhibitionist. I’m occasionally “the belle of the ball” but that’s more of a social butterfly aspect, as opposed to being on a stage. So my preference is to interact with individuals, make them laugh, collect my compliments and get the fuck out.

Later on in my life I realized that listening more than talking was a good thing. Listening is the key to being a good conversationalist and generally a person whose company one sought. People like being listened to, they just do. How frustrating it is to attempt rapport with some jackass who constantly swings the conversation back to themselves, how tedious, how boorish. So I started listening. And then of course my tiny mind would start chasing butterflies, because I wasn’t listening, I was waiting for a break in the speech and formulating my response to it, as if that were the MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE UNIVERSE. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

I have a book called “The 48 Laws of Power”. Each chapter is a principle which is illustrated by a historical reference. The one I like best is (I’m paraphrasing, too lazy to get up and find book) the less you say, the smarter you look. Oh how convenient, I found a link!  If you talk too much you may reveal your weaknesses, whereas when you say nothing no one has a clue what you might be capable of, and there is power in that. It’s like the classic villain “monologuing” about how he’s going to destroy you.

Listening makes you powerful. And wise. And empathetic. If you don’t know what to say, try listening instead. It’s hard to do, you have to keep calling your mind back like a naughty puppy. And instead of opening your life like a book, ask questions about what the other person is saying, even if it’s just, “Really?”. Because this is a cue to the other person that you are worth talking to. And you are!!

When we’re drinking we’re so self-centered, a shining god in our universe of one. As we re-enter the actual universe, populated by other humans, we have to learn or re-learn how to communicate in it.

I’m telling you this works. You would not BELIEVE what people tell me. I have one of those faces, I guess, that says, “Please spill your guts HERE.”  I rarely argue, I prefer discussions. I never try to convert anyone, but I try to ask revealing questions like, “Why do you feel that way? What made you decide that? How does that work?”  And I taught myself to do these things AUTOMATICALLY. So anyone can do it!! Try it!!! Let me know how it goes.

Wow, sorry about getting all Tony Robbins on you! I’ll dial it back a bit….


13 thoughts on “Smoke and Small Talk and Big Listening

  1. I loved this post Betty ! ESP the paragraph about we are shining gods in our universe of one !
    also loved the Jane Austen quote … It’s true !

    I’m socially anxious , I always felt that alcohol helped . but I would just be a red faced sweating fool who ended up being argumentative !

    I’d rather be quiet really . I’m going to listen more


  2. A brilliant post, thank you, it really reinforces some stuff I’ve been trying out myself when faced with needing to join in with social conversation.
    I have a weekend coming up where there will be a fai bit of boozy activity, but also a strong sober core of friends. I used to like a drink to help loosen me up but I’m looking forward to practising listening – another new challenge 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so true! listening essentially feeds into peoples egos (we all have one) and in general people love to talk about themselves. The sober me will listen attentively as opposed to the drinking me who used to share waaayyy to much about myself. I used to be painfully shy as a child too until I learnt how to “fake it till you make it”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. what a great post! thanks so much for that! i am feeling kinda optimistic now that maybe i CAN learn to be better at “small talk” i guess stranger things have happened! sorry to hear you are in the middle of wildfires:( that sounds scary!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Again, thank you for inspiring it! You can absolutely do this, eventually it will flow effortlessly if you keep at it. :)))
      It is scary, closest one is about 30 miles away, not likely to spread here but everything’s so dry there’s always potential for disaster anywhere. And I have friends and coworkers in these places, so I worry about them:( Rain dance!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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