Author Topic: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.  (Read 3223 times)

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LadyL

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Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« on: June 17, 2014, 12:51:10 PM »
BG: I have a history of social anxiety, but it has gotten much better with age and practice. Ehell in particular has helped me learn a set of social "rules," and sticking to that structure helps me feel comfortable in social situations because a lot of my anxiety has been based on fear of being awkward or not knowing what to do or say. I am also an introvert who finds challenging social situations VERY draining, because keeping track of what role I am supposed to be playing (while trying to make interactions look effortless) takes a lot of, well, effort. My least favorite thing/top 3 anxiety trigger is small talk with acquaintances.

I have a coworker who reminds me a lot of myself in that the same situations that set off my anxiety cause her to visibly fluster. Her face will flush and she will start to stutter a bit, or struggle to finish her thoughts, when she is taken by surprise socially. We live in the same city and commute via the same train route and sometimes we bump into each other waiting for the train. Making small talk for the entire 25 minute train ride can be painful because her visible discomfort makes me feel nervous/uncomfortable and it can devolve into a vortex of mutual anxiety. So, if I spot her before she spots me, I will opt to wait on the other side of the platform and not approach her unless she spots me to spare us both. I should note, I like this woman as a person, it's just that her issues kind of mirror my own making our interactions uncomfortable.

Today as I reached the station platform she turned around right in front of me. We greeted each other, she struggled with taking out her ear buds, and she started kind of word vomiting about her recent experiences apartment hunting. As usual I could feel the nervousness emanating from her. The train came soon after and we were able to get seats next to each other. I thought about how I wanted to spend the next 25 minutes and decided to try a tactic I picked up from ehell, so I turned and said to her "Well, don't let me keep you from your podcast or music you were listening to! I actually have some reading I was planning to do."

She looked surprised, and then relieved, and said "Ok!" She pulled out a laptop and did some work while I read my RSS feed on my phone. When the train arrived we parted ways (she opted to walk to campus, I opted for taking the bus) and all was well.

I have to admit, it felt very strange to disengage like that. With most people I choose to endure the obligation to engage in small talk. With some classmates or people I know better it can even be an opportunity for a more genuine conversation beyond just the weather and recent sports events- sometimes I've been pleasantly surprised.

So, ehell, how did I do? I hope phrasing it as a suggestion made it seem less brusque - if she had said "Oh no, it's ok!" I would have happily talked with her instead. Have you ever offered someone an "out" like this? Any tips for managing to do so gracefully/without it seeming like a "brush off?"

Outdoor Girl

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2014, 12:56:31 PM »
I think your approach was perfect!

I was on a flight once and was lucky enough to have an empty seat between me and the person in the window seat.  We chatted off and on while the flight was loading and during taxi and takeoff.  But then she said, 'Don't mind me but I'm going to put on my mask, wrap up in this blanket and try to get some sleep.'

Which was great - I always feel like I'm supposed to keep a conversation going but don't often want to because I'm also an introvert and it takes work!  I'm much better now at picking up the cues that someone doesn't really want to chit chat.
I have CDO.  It is like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.
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m2kbug

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2014, 01:20:55 PM »
I think you did very well.  You recognized her discomfort and know her difficulty and feeling of obligation.  You gave her an "out," and it seemed to go very well. 

Allyson

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2014, 01:30:06 PM »
This sounds great. One of my least favourite situations is ending up on the bus with someone I know enough that it'd be rude to ignore them, but not well enough I want to chat with them for the whole bus ride. (I have skipped buses and waited for the next to avoid this! Ok, granted, the next bus came in about 5 minutes, but still.)

I love the idea of being able to say "actually I was really wanting to finish this chapter" if you're not up for talking, or figuring out if the other person would rather just relax. I think for a lot of people, me included, a bus ride comes after the end of or before a long day of interacting with people, and sometimes we count on that time to decompress/prepare.

LeveeWoman

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2014, 01:35:40 PM »
This is the one of the kindest and most gracious acts I've heard of in a while.

Addy

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2014, 01:37:16 PM »
I totally agree, LeveeWoman. Gracious was the first word that came to my mind.

TootsNYC

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2014, 01:38:32 PM »
This is the one of the kindest and most gracious acts I've heard of in a while.

I agree!


Nicely done. Even if only for your own sake.


Sophia

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2014, 01:45:13 PM »
Since it works for both of you, you might actively try to seek her out next time and sit next to each other.  Then say something like, "It was such a relaxing train ride last time we sat together.  Do you mind if we do it again?"  Then maybe mention something about you being an introvert and having problems with small talk. 

In high school I knew a girl who'd had a part of her brain killed by drugs she had done a few years before.  It took her 5 minutes to process what you said.  We sort of became friends because it was so pleasant to sit and have lunch with her without small talk.  I soon learned to not ask "How are you?" unless I cared enough to wait 5 minutes for the answer.  Maybe the two of you could be that sort of friends? 


bopper

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2014, 01:49:29 PM »
Here is a great article about Establishing Rapport...

http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/october-2012/mastering-rapport-and-having-productive-conversations

I think your friend's uncomfortableness about possibly having to talk to someone for the bus ride is Item #1:
1) Establish artificial time constraints. Allow the potential source to feel that there is
 an end in sight.

So you did that at the end of the conversation by "excusing" her to listen to her podcast.
Next time you could say "I need to listen to/read <whatever>, but I just want to check on how things are going?" and she would be put at ease.

LadyL

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2014, 02:08:50 PM »
This is the one of the kindest and most gracious acts I've heard of in a while.

::blushes:: Thank you! It is a relief to hear that. Socializing does not come naturally to me and I can sometimes be too rigid about rules, like feeling obligated to make small talk (much like on the Big Bang Theory with Sheldon's "non-optional social conventions"). It is a relief to know that 1. I have a new tactic in my repertoire to deescalate anxiety producing situations and 2. that I can continue to grow and develop as as a social creature - who knows what other tough situations actually have potential resolutions? It sounds cheesy but stuff like this is a huge growth moment.

A related story: a long time ago (over a year) I posted here about coming across a forgotten pocketbook in the restroom at work. My instinct was to not touch it because it wasn't mine. I got chastised pretty sternly here for not doing anything to help, but honestly I just didn't have a script for the situation. One kind soul explained it to me in simple terms - that the purse had "lost" its owner, so the rule of "don't go through other people's stuff" didn't apply. Twice since then, I have found someone's bag or wallet, and repeated the rule to myself, and then taken the item and tracked down the owner. Both times I managed to get the item back it's person, and it's mainly because posting here gave me a script to follow (seriously, for someone who is "smart" I can be pretty dense about being a human).

Possum

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2014, 02:27:34 PM »
Your approach was awesome, OP!  Sometimes what feels rude up front is actually very gracious to the other person.  In this case, it was a boon because you both benefited from it.

Since she's clearly as uneasy with small talk as you, maybe one day when you're in that position, you could take an approach I've taken with some success...  Look at her and say, "You know, I think we enjoy each other's company on this commute, but I don't think either of us is big on small talk.  Shall we make a pact to have conversation if we want to--and only if?  And to take headphones, a book, a laptop, or closed eyes as a way of saying, 'I'm happy to be here with you?'"

You'll have to feel her out to see if she'd understand you're not rejecting her, or trying to avoid her--but if she knows by now that you understand her, then doing that may be one of the kindest, most friendly acts you could offer an introvert.

Source: I'm an introvert who usually hates small talk.  One of my good friends and I will actually sit and work on separate projects, and pass notes instead!

Celany

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2014, 02:45:49 PM »
I also thing that's a great way of phrasing things and one I'm going to commit to mind, especially to use with my partner's other partner. She has huge social anxiety issues and I've seen her struggle to be social around me. I'm fine if our way of being "social" is her playing computer games while I read on my ipad, so I'll definitely use that the next time we hang out together.
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auntmeegs

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2014, 02:53:50 PM »
This is the one of the kindest and most gracious acts I've heard of in a while.

I agree!


Nicely done. Even if only for your own sake.

I agree, that was fantastic and I'm definitely going to borrow that one from you.

Goosey

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2014, 02:57:23 PM »
Is it really necessary, though? If the OP had picked up her book and begun reading, I think it would have sent the same message without the surprise. I honestly think this tactic would put some people off, so it's best to try and send the message non-verbally at first rather than make a pointed remark.

SoCalVal

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Re: Offering someone an "out" from small talk.
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2014, 03:14:26 PM »
I have skipped buses and waited for the next to avoid this! Ok, granted, the next bus came in about 5 minutes, but still.

Recently, I've not attended a couple of meetings and, usually, I'll delay/speed up going out the door at work in order to avoid having to walk/interact with others from my office who I can see are going to be going the same path.  What a great thing to give that poor woman an out!