“So… I met this girl.”
“Remember when that hilarious thing happened to us?”
“Did you hear about what happened to our mutual friend?”
“You’ll never believe what he said to me.”
“Can I get your advice on this situation?”
“I heard something about you. Can you tell me more about it?”
The types of conversations that might follow above statements always seem to work out really well for me. Of course, by “really well,” I mean that people’s eyes rarely roll back in their head, and I don’t hear many audible sighs. There’s usually a reasonable degree of back-and-forth between me and the other person, and I walk away thinking that they enjoyed talking to me. I’m not a conversationalist by any means, but I can at least mimic one with some degree of competency if the situation calls for it. Because I seem to interpret the world differently than most people, talking with people I don’t know well takes a tremendous amount of internal processing. Not only must I understand their particular way of looking at things and to translate my ideas into that worldview, but I also have to simultaneously gauge the level of interest and disinterest in any ideas that I might bring up.
To give you a flavor of this process, let me narrate an example of the types of internal discussion that underly “conversation starters” like the ones listed in this post.
“So… I met this girl.” (I sense a really close connection with you, and want to talk about something important but highly personal, in order to communicate that I really appreciate the trusting bond that we share. It would be too weird to just come right out and say something like that. So, let’s talk about the feelings I have for someone else. To reiterate, I’d really prefer not to discuss these feelings because I can sort them out much better on my own. But, I’m “letting you in” now because I trust you and want you to trust me with things that are near and dear to your heart.)
“Remember when that hilarious thing happened to us?” (I’m have a painfully vivid memory of the event in question. Rather than having to re-live the situation alone, let’s do it with a friend — and try to cast the story into a new, better memory so that future flashbacks aren’t quite so distressing.)
“Did you hear about what happened to our mutual friend?”/”You’ll never believe what he said to me.” (You really enjoy talking about things like this, and I want you to enjoy talking to me. Even though I really could not care less about the situation, I also understand that I don’t have that “normal” of a brain. As such, it’s probably more practical for me to practice saying the kind of “nonsense” that you enjoy talking about than it is for me to try to interest you in the kind of “nonsense” that I enjoy talking about.)
“Can I get your advice on this situation?” (I’ve spent a great deal of time evaluating a number of solutions to the problem, and have even made most of the steps toward resolution. I’m including you because I think you are an intelligent, capable person. I want to give you a compliment, while getting a sanity check on my thought process.)
“I heard something about you. Can you tell me more about it?” (I shouldn’t have to explain this one, because it’s actually the only one in the list that is not hiding any complicated abstractions. However, I feel like most people view this kind of question as code for “I want to get one step closer to understanding who you are as a person.” First, I really do not like the phrase of “understanding someone.” It’s almost offensively presumptuous and is not at all the way I interpret relationships. I like “getting to know someone” a lot better, because it connotes a privilege, and an ever-adapting bond. Second, I am a genuinely curious person. I care about your research. I care about your extensive knowledge of 19th century dinnerware. I care about how that job interview went, and how your week went. I love that good knowledge!)
So, as much as people might be right in saying that I’m a poor communicator, it still really ticks me off — especially since I tend to put a considerable amount of effort into “boiling down” my actual thoughts and feelings into the commonly-accepted lingo. If I’m willing to do (or at least make a best-effort attempt at) this for everyone most of the time, it seems fair that others — especially those closest to me — ought to be willing, on occasion, to sift through some of my unfiltered and not-immediately-interesting ramblings, and share some of the burden of translating my thoughts into something they can appreciate.