I've always been lousy at small talk, but have made great improvements in this area over the years. There's one aspect of it, though, that's currently bugging me.
I've (finally) learned the basics of making small talk: ask the other person about their family, children, hobbies, etc. But I've noticed that there is a certain group of people at work who do nothing but reflect the topic back to me, and I find myself talking about my own life more than I'm comfortable with.
Me: "How was your weekend?"
Them: "Fine, how was yours?"
M: "Oh, I did this and that and..."
M: I heard you went to New York City for vacation! How was it?"
T: "Fine. Have you ever been there? Tell me about the times you went there!"
This bugs me, for several reasons.
- It feel like I'm being interrogated. It feels slightly violating, for some reason.
- I feel like I have no control over the direction of the conversation;
- I feel like they're just using me to forget about their own lives temporarily, and live vicariously through me. (Most, not all, of these people are married with children, and love hearing about my childless existence. But at the same time, as I'm unhappily single, I want to live vicariously through them!);
- It feels like they aren't interested enough in me emotionally to share a part of themselves; they just want to take and not give.
It triggers memories of when I was a teenager too (probably what's causing the feelings of violation): the popular kids would come up to me and ask a perfectly innocent question, such as "what's your favorite band?" I would give a non-weird answer, and they would run away giggling. To this day, I haven't figured out what that was about.
But what really annoys me is the practical aspect of it all: it gives them the upper hand with the small talk! I want to further my networking with these people, but I can't call across the room "how was your child's clarinet concert?" because they don't volunteer that information. But they can easily say to me, "Have you finished knitting the sweater yet?" because they know everything about me. So, I'm back to my original problem with small talk: not being able to think of anything to say. And I hate that.
Any ideas on how to even the playing field a little bit here? I suppose I could say "you know, I'm tired of talking about myself, I wish you'd stop turning the conversation around the moment it starts," but that seems heavy handed or something. I suppose instead of saying "oh, I did this and that and.." I could just repeat the one-word answer, "fine." But then the conversation would just die, and the whole point of this is to make small talk.
(MetaChat rant from a few years ago about my issues with small talk)