I Talk about Talking

Several strange and marvelous things have happened to me in my lifetime, almost all of which become educational tools which I share with my students. Real-life applications ... mistakes they can learn from.

Two of my favorite stories to tell come up in my speech classes, when we talk about social communication.

Item 1: Introducing Yourself to Others
My Annoying Relative has given me many, many options to choose from when teaching my kids Communication Don'ts. I do talk about her quite a lot, to the point that I think some of my students believe I am making her up. (sigh She is all too real).

A proper introduction consists of the following:
Greet the other person.
Say your name.
Tell something about yourself.
Ask a question.

It may go something like this: "Hello, I'm Mei Flower. I'm visiting this area for the weekend; are you from around here?"

Simple, right? Oh, but My Annoying Relative NEVER takes the simple route when she can muck it all up with complications and overdramatizations.

Imagine, if you will, that I am at my church on Christmas Eve several years ago. Surprise! Here are my Aunt Jane and Uncle Bob, and oh look My Annoying Relative. We were not expecting them, which I think is unfair, because I need at LEAST thirty minutes for my Valium to kick in. And here they are to ruin Christmas, and I have to be nice because of the Baby Jesus.

At that time, My Annoying Relative was only just beginning to explore the depths of her Annoyingness, and so had not yet reached her full potential. She was probably about fourteen or so, maybe younger, I don't know, but she had definitely outgrown that stage where everything that one does is cute. She was wearing a red velvet dress and was mincing up the aisle of the church as though she were a fairy princess and we were her loyal subjects and why weren't we bowing or throwing pixie dust or paying homage to her for crying out loud.

The pastor of our church, a wonderful and gracious man who was in his mid-50s at the time, was talking to my father when Jane and Bob and MAR pushed in and interrupted as they so often do. My dad introduced Jane and Bob, and then ... oh, this is almost too much for me to write ... My Annoying Relative stuck out her hand and said, "Greetings!" in her stupid Jan Brady voice, which is bad enough, but then ... but THEN ... BUT THEN ...


I admit, it would have been adorable IF she'd been ten years younger. But as it was, my sister Joon and I both did our patented Look At The Floor Move, which is what we do whenever My Annoying Relative shows up, actually, and my dad almost passed out from trying not to laugh. Even the pastor had to pause for a moment before he returned her greeting and said, "Hello, young lady," (which is what he says to all female persons under the age of 75). I think even the Baby Jesus had to stifle a laugh.

I re-enacted the scene for my class today, as an object lesson on How Not to Introduce Yourself. I think they learned that lesson well.

Item Two: Engaging in Small Talk
Small talking is difficult for a lot of people. I personally hate it, myself, and try to avoid it whenever possible. Actually, there is this thing called Small Talk Apprehension, and there's a survey I give my students that lets them know if they have it. Most of them don't, and I'm not surprised, because some of those kids would talk to a dead body as long as it didn't interrupt.

Usually, at this point, I talk about how you can carry on a conversation with people you don't know very well, and my number one piece of advice is ASK QUESTIONS. We practiced this a little bit today; I have one of those stupid ice-breaker games that everybody hates, the one that looks like a bingo card and each square says something like, "Someone who is a Cardinals fan," or "Someone who has not lived in Randomville all his/her life." Just things that the kids may not know about each other; it's supposed to help them practice asking open-ended questions and as a bonus, they might find out they have something in common with someone else. I gave them ten minutes to try and fill all the squares.

[One of the squares says, "Someone who is wearing earrings," and I had given explicit instructions that they were NOT to ask yes/no questions. So one girl comes up to me and says, "Why, Ms. Flower, what are those things you have in your ears?" It just cracked me up (but she followed directions, so YAY!).]

When I talk about carrying on conversations, I try to stress that it's important that you not overshare. There are certain things, I say, that you might feel comfortable talking about with members of your family, but that strangers probably don't really want or need to know about. This is when I tell the story of my Worst Conversation Ever.

(This is a true story; it's not even an exaggeration. And it happened to ME).

When I lived in Capital City, one of the women I worked with invited me to her church. She was having a picnic for her Sunday School class afterwards, and she though I might like to come, since I hadn't found a church home yet. Now, she was several years older than I, but the Singles Department encompassed all ages, from the college students up to the older single or divorced people. I was one of the youngest people at the picnic, but I was also the youngest person in my office, so I was used to it; I felt pretty comfortable talking to older people.


This older woman--she was probably in her late 50s or 60s--came over and sat down next to me. I was very focused on my hamburger and potato salad, but she started talking to me all the same. It didn't take long to cover the weather and how I knew the hostess, and then she started in on the serious topics. She asked if I was married (no), or if I'd ever been married (no); I thought it would be rude to ask her the same questions, so I just sort of smiled and nodded at appropriate times. Not that it mattered, because I got her whole life story and medical history, even though I didn't ask. Here, almost verbatim, is what she told me not TEN MINUTES after I met her:

"I used to be married, but my husband left me. He cheated on me because I didn't like sex. See, I was born without ovaries."

I'm sure she kept talking after this, but I think I fainted a little bit, because all I remember is hearing "... ovaries ... ovaries ... ovaries ..." echoing inside my head.

When I told my family all about it later, they might have laughed without stopping for five minutes--or longer. To this day, whenever I meet someone new, my dad will say, "Did you talk about ovaries?"

Obviously, the story has to be edited somewhat for my students, but I do hit the punchline pretty hard. And I tell them, when it comes to talking to strangers, they should always remember this important rule:


I think that's a pretty important life lesson right there; I should put it on a t-shirt.

1 comment:

SP7 shhh said...

Boo! I'm your sp! :)


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