Just Shut Up

When your friends won't stop talking about Burning Man

Thank you,
Trish Dear Trish,

Honestly, there's no better way to improve one's social skills than by engaging fellow partygoers in small talk. I encourage you to be patient and to give people a fair chance before you decide that they aren't worth chatting with. (And keep in mind that even uninteresting folks may have an eligible-bachelor friend or a sibling looking to hire someone just like you. The rewards of being sociable are not always immediate.) Unless someone is being outright insulting, a good party guest (one who is not snobbish, that is) makes an effort to participate in the party chitchat that comes her way.

Now, I must also tell you that most conversations in movies are scripted: If a lovely phrase works to end a conversation in an old film, that's because the filmmakers wanted it to. In real life, there are few all-purpose magic phrases (or perfect retorts, etc.). But the conversational problem in modern times probably isn't the lack of well-written exit lines -- it has more to do with two generations of people brought up to think that expressing, in detail, their minutest thoughts and feelings is their right and their duty. They never learned that a good conversationalist asks questions, avoids monologues unless he's sure others are interested, expresses his opinions as opinions (not facts), avoids unpleasant topics (such as gossip or complaints), and watches for creeping signs of boredom or dismay in listeners' faces.

These people don't show up in movies very often. Who'd want to watch them? When you encounter one at a party, I suggest indulging her for as long as you can bear. Your exit line will have to be something as simple as, "Well, Margaret, I've really enjoyed hearing about your trip to Nacogdoches; it has been a pleasure talking with you. Excuse me." And then turn and walk away.

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