If I ask someone about their day, and what’s going on in their life, I want to do it because I care, not because I’m trying to avoid awkwardness. But somehow, you sometimes feel the pressure emanating from your surroundings when you call that friend or acquaintance, who maybe you haven’t spoken to in a while, and you feel like you have to find other things to talk about first before delving into the real reason you contacted them. Or, say you just met someone, and no non-lame conversation starters occur to you – you have nothing concrete to say or ask – so you try to talk about the weather, or the local American football team (How ‘bout them Ravens?), or your college major, or some other banal subject.
Even though this seems a bit preposterous in my head, I do realize that this “small talk” phenomenon is the main basis for the idea of “networking” – a word I have come to dislike very much (you might say I’m biased because I’m not very good at it, or I hate doing it, and you might be right). The idea, from where I’m sitting, is to meet people who you intend to use as connections (resources) as a result of a position they hold and/or what they could do for you. Then, you’re supposed to cultivate an ersatz friendship with these people by connecting with them somehow.
Now, to properly connect, you need to have done your homework (because chances are, you’re not an extroverted social butterfly), which sometimes means research, preparing your mind for often mindless conversation, making yourself seem like you’re interested in something they are or might be fond of, or desperately grappling for a common interest.
I wish we could get to a point where we didn’t feel the pressure to simulate rapport, and conversation could just flow naturally where and when it’s meant to. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make the effort to connect with others, I’m just saying that when you do connect, let it be for the right reasons – like a genuine interest – not just because you need to make a connection.
It seems logical that if you can’t think of anything about a person that you actually wouldn’t mind hearing about, then you’re better off not asking lame questions sometimes. In my experience, real friendships rarely ever form from those conversations, because they often result in either one of two things. You could be trapped in a conversation where there’s one talkative and one rude inattentive listener – which can be very unpleasant no matter what side you’re on – or you could end up with an awkward and unrewarding monosyllabic exchange.
Too many times, I’ve been called back from very important trains of thought because I stopped talking and had my face scrunched up in deep reflection. It’s sort of goes like this, “oh, you haven’t said a word in five minutes, did someone die?!” I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate the concern, and I really wouldn’t want people to stop doing this because I actually do get carried away, but it just goes to prove my point. Silence in a social gathering isn’t always welcome, and is often perceived as a signal to worry that there’s trouble.
The way I see it, an “awkward silence” is only awkward if you feel it is – if you don’t sense any pressure, it’s just plain old silence, which can be very soothing and comfortable for reflection. Why can’t we just sit in silence sometimes, and live in our own thoughts sometimes? If there is nothing immediate to communicate or share, it’s okay to just be quiet sometimes.