Friday, September 29, 2006

Small talk

One of my big pet peeves is when people start off conversations that have a specific purpose with small talk. Usually, but not always, this is people I don't know too well personally. I don't understand it at all. Maybe they think that I'm really stupid, and won't notice that they're doing it, and rather think that we were having an exciting and friendly conversation, and then a request or question just happened to slip in. It's so pointless, and so irritating. Here's how it goes...

Person: Hey, how's it going?
Me: (sigh) Fine.
Person: How are you liking the Segway?
Me: (sigh) It's fine.
Person: Gonna miss the warm weather?
Me: (sigh) Not really.
Person: Oh, one other thing; (insert question here)

Wow! Really subtle. Good work. Whatever you thought you were doing by getting on my good side or whatever, you've failed miserably. Now I'm irritated at you before you even ask your question. Compare and contrast:

Person: Hey, (insert question here)

I'm not against small talk with people I know. I can even tolerate it for a short while with people I don't know. But if you have a question, or a request, or just a statement, just SAY IT. Not to mention the fact that if I'm busy when you ask, I may ask you to come back later if you start talking about inconsequential things, but I'll happily answer a focused question.

I consider myself lucky that people on my team don't do this, which I even find kind of surprising. But a lot of people do, both in person and over IM. Even a few people I know very well will always preface questions with nonsense.

I don't think it's unreasonable to ask people not to start off conversations with topics that they don't actually care about when they have a topic that they do care about waiting.


Louise said...

I got a good laugh out of this one. It's just something people do. Most people feel much better asking things after a little bit of banter. Most people are not comfortable just coming out and saying what is on their minds. It's just human nature...and most of us are whimps when it comes to opening up ourselves (even if it is just a to get an answer to our question!) Plus, they might be worried that you might not answer their question and fear that rejection. We can be rather silly creatures at times.

Luke said...

For me, its not really lacking courage, or an inability to be direct and constructive. I think mostly its just that people want you to feel like they care about you, and you're an important part of their team.

If I only ask you about things that are specific only to myself, such as how do I fix this? or what widget does this? then it seems like I am trying to drive an agenda. On the other hand, if I ask you what you're doing or what you get fun out of, then I'm including you and recognizing you. Even if I'm not being candid or truthful, I'm still implying: hey I don't necessarily think about what you do a lot but its does affect me so I'm going to ask.

If you are very busy, just say I would like to talk to you right now, but I cannot because I'm really really busy - can I catch you later? I think what you decide to spend time on is really important, but making small talk is not just time wasted.

Travis said...

If you're coming to talk to me because you have a question, and you start off with "friendly" questions for thirty seconds, you do have an agenda. It almost never sounds genuine. Now, good friends are kind of exempt from this; I can tell when you're honestly interested, and I'm happy to talk. But people who you don't really know too well starting off with dishonest pretend interest are the ones who bug me.