When I talk, it’s kind of like throwing spaghetti at a wall. I’ve been known to talk and talk until, mercifully for the person I’m talking to, something resembling a point comes out and sticks.
There’s an obvious hazard of this quirky and downright adorable communication style – something really stupid is also going to inevitably come out. And, unlike writing where you can enjoy the heady luxury of a healthy edit, once you’ve said something inane, it’s out there, man. For a, uh, prolific talker like myself, you have two options: you can suddenly see something far away that needs your immediate attention (pre-schoolers are especially handy for this) or simply start talking again until the stupid thing has been erased by 10 more somethings. Quantity here, not quality.
Apparently, this rapid fire verbal assault doesn’t do it for everybody.
Last week, I accompanied a couple of colleagues down to a two-day seminar where we looked at our strengths, and the benefits of working with the strengths God gave us instead of futilely toiling away trying to correct our weaknesses. (Take that, math!) One of my strengths turned out to be my ability and interestingly enough, desire, to chat up strangers, get their story and quickly find some level on which we can relate. Huh.
We all had to stand and share about our strengths and ourselves. When it was my turn, I may have been a touch animated and incorporated a half-fist-pump, but did my best to keep it simple. When we were all done, I turned to talk to the ladies behind me. I had noticed our strengths put us on opposite ends of the spectrum personality-wise. The woman with the curly hair smiled sweetly, and appeased me with polite conversation. The lady with the ponytail and the death grip on her study guide looked me straight in the eye and said, “people like me run away from people like you,” not cracking a smile and effectively ending the conversation right there.
I spent the afternoon chewing on this. Oh no – I’m scary.
What would happen if I spotted serious pony tail death grip lady (SPTDGL) on my church patio at coffee hour? There I would be, lumbering over in movie-style slow motion with her locked in my sites. With this attractive visual in mind, I pictured what might be going through my head as I tried to make conversation with her.
My inner monologue would go something like this: “I’m relating to you right now. I’m making you more comfortable by talking and asking you questions about yourself in a totally healthy, hospitable, not-weird way. Ok, what I just said might be oversharing, but by being upfront about my faults, maybe you won’t think we’re all goody two shoes. Are you looking at my feet? I know my shoes don’t exactly match and this ‘luminous’ self-tanner is making me glitter like a disco ball. Note to self, ‘luminous’ = glitter.”
See? I’m nice, authentic, and most definitely not scary. With this silent conclusion, I triumphantly looked over my shoulder at the lady, who wouldn’t meet my gaze.
Hmmph. It’s you wily stoic ones that make me nervous. Yes, wily. I’m onto you – you’ve learned to masterfully use your silence to make yourself seem wiser and more thoughtful than the other folks in the room. A skill that is enhanced into a superpower by the presence of a talker. You are able to simultaneously lull others into submission and bubble up their self doubt with the simple and artful act of not saying anything at exactly the right moment. That leaves the talker to do what they do best, fill the silence. If for some bizarro reason, I ever end up in your interrogation room, all you’d have to do is sit across from me, silently smirking. You’d get everything you needed to know, and then some.
Uggh, that isn’t right either. Ok, well, parts of it are.
With a new resolve, I made SPTDGL my new personal project. I was going to literally talk her into liking me. (Um, seeing that in print makes me realize I may have other issues I need to explore – but that’s for another day.)
The next day she showed up in a Mickey Mouse watch and jacket.
I can talk about two general subjects intelligently and with aplomb. The first is pop culture – scripted television, celebrity gossip, movies. Secondly, and more importantly, Disneyland. I stood determinedly in front of her, arms folded, and said simply “I see your Mickey Mouse jacket and watch.” She started to squirm and squinch up her face, eyes darting around desperately looking for an escape route, until I belted out “I LOVE DISNEYLAND!” and threw in a subdued fist pump for emphasis. Her shoulders relaxed, and then it happened. Her frown relaxed…all the way into a sorta, kinda half-smile that was ambiguously pointed in my direction!
And on that day, in that conference room, whether she liked it or not, she shared an authentic moment with her admittedly worst chatty luminous nightmare.