An awkward person’s guide to dealing with awkward conversation
Ah crap, there I go again saying something that’s probably inappropriate and that could easily be taken out of context…all just to make conversation. The same thing happened today when I was in the kitchen at work. Someone who is a few months pregnant and very very (stress ‘very’) lovely said “oh have you lost weight, you’re looking skinny today?”, no doubt intending to pass me a compliment. But me being the soul-less, socially awkward person that I am responded in all seriousness, “No I don’t think I’ve lost weight, but I might just be looking skinnier relative to you”. Yes cue the floor opening up and fiery brimstone being shot up at me for I am going to hell.
It’s quickly becoming a serious issue – idle chit chat is just not my thing. I’ve already been told to ‘speak up more’ and now in my eagerness to respond with answers that are both value-adding and meaningful, I always find myself over-analysing social interaction to the point that I end up saying awkward and/or inappropriate things [Note: that ‘inappropriate’ and ‘awkward’ can be mutually exclusive…clearly an important distinction].
Firstly there’s over share of personal information. For example, you get casually asked whilst in the coffee line “were you sick yesterday?” and clearly the thoughtful answer is “yes but I’m feeling much better today”. That’s normal. Instead I assume that the person is on some sort of reconnaissance mission designed to trip me up and make me relinquish my statutory right to sick days, therefore I must prove my illness. So I opt for “yes I was ill with a terrible migraine which is a genetic condition because both my mum and sister get them but this one was brought on by a neighbourhood dog who wouldn’t stop barking until the dog was attacked by sand flies and stopped barking but then that also meant that my neighbour was upset that her dog was all red and lumpy and needed someone to comfort them which I couldn’t do because I was ill…errr I HAVE A MEDICAL CERTIFICATE!”. Phew! Good save, they were onto you.
Then there’s one-on-one interaction. For example you enter a meeting only to discover that your boss has not arrived and it dawns on you that for the next five minutes it’s just you and the client. For a normal person, “Hello” would be a good start but instead my head over-analyses and starts this: It’s just all on you. C’mon don’t stuff this up. This is your big break. Just don’t over think things, and just don’t stuff up and say something price sensitive that could kill our deal. Just be cool. You’re young so you must be cool… all this while I have a client staring at me blankly waiting for me to say anything…. “Hello” I begin. Good job, you’re doing well. “Would you like some water?” GREAT question, you’re a genius, you’re such a good communicator….[leans over and spills jug of water]. “Ha ha ha LOL cats!”….fuck did I just say ‘LOL cats’ out loud? In a business meeting?? Seriously LOL cats? Yes, yes you did.
And of course there are client cocktail parties where extricating yourself from shit conversation seems to be more difficult than trying to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson. I’ve seen people move effortlessly between groups – they seem to not just move but glide between groups, greeting and making everyone feel warm and welcome, much like how I’d imagine Julie Andrews would act should she be big on the corporate networking/singing scene. I on the other hand, in my attempts to network, always manage to spend 90% of the time talking to one, (inevitably boring) person then the other 10% of the time is spent awkwardly hanging around on the outskirts of other groups’ conversations, looking interested but secretly eyeing off the duck pancakes and using all mental power to will the waiter to come my way.
Then, when I actually need to say something I can’t. For example when getting a massage, facial or any sort of day spa treatment, I seem to magically transform into some mute person who can only communicate through flinching my body parts when something is too painful. Forget actually speaking up and saying “oh I only like gentle pressure for massage please”. No, I like to take the longer, painful route to entirely defeat the purpose of my massage and come out more tense and nervous than before.
But you should note one thing – in all my examples, not once did the other person actually stop me and make it any less awkward. So here’s my theory: awkward people are EVERYWHERE. They’re everywhere with their awkward mannerisms, their awkward clothing, their awkward hair, their awkward intonation, saying all this awkward shit, ending emails about being awkward really awkwardly….like now.
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