Over the weekend, I met a friend for breakfast while visiting my mom in Greensboro. We went to my go-to local joint for catching up with someone or another over omelets and home fries.
I’m there rarely enough that though it is always the same server, she doesn’t remember me… and I might not have remembered her except that I’m in the habit of chatting with folks, often about nothing in particular – stuff that might fall under the heading of small talk. And yet in small talk with this server, I had learned, a breakfast or two back, that waiting tables is a second job for her, one she took so that she could contribute to her sister’s dream wedding.
When I walked into the diner on Saturday, she looked tired. She greeted me and returned to her phone while I picked a table. When she took our order, I asked about the wedding.
She absolutely lit up. Her eyes got big and bright and a little tear-moistened. Her voice perked up. She offered to show us a picture and then opted to cue up a beautifully produced six minute video of an absolutely joy-filled wedding, leaving her phone for us to watch while she gave our order to the cook. When she came back, she said, “I don’t know you, but I love you a little bit.” She wasn’t being quippy; she was speaking from her heart.
Among the top few reasons I hear people give to justify their dislike of networking, a disdain of small talk is heavy in the mix. There’s often a sneer to it that makes me think of how a sommelier might react to someone handing her an uncapped bottle of Boone’s Farm wrapped in a paper bag.
Part of me gets it. Given the opportunity, I will jump into the deep end of the conversational pool gleefully. No religion or politics or pain talk? Not at my table; bring it all! And yet, not everyone is so ready to expose themselves that way. For many people, small talk is the passageway to building the kind of trust that might just lead to those meatier-than-a-Brazilian-steakhouse conversations.
A while back, I was sitting at a coffee with a woman I kept bumping into in the business community. By the half-hour mark, I was squirming in my seat, wondering if it was too soon to leave. She was giving me polished sales lines and a perfectionistic rendition of her skills, business and life. And then something shifted. I can’t recall quite what or how. All I know is that a door opened between us, her tone dropped, her forced smile faded into something more contemplative, and she shared some realness with me. I felt my resistance to her fade and the connection between us begin to form. I was one lame excuse to get out of small talk away from missing that connection.
Anyhow, just a few thoughts as I write wrapped in my layers of cozy winter gear. Wasn’t that warm pop last week really something?!