Tag Archives: conversation skills

One of my overriding memories of school, is being surrounded by a kind of white noise. This is the noise of other people’s conversations. Difficult to distinguish or make sense of, it’s easier to tune it out. I thought I’d left this behind until…

Tumble Tots.

When my daughter was younger, a lot of the mums in the waiting room wouldn’t have conversations with each other. It was the norm to sit quietly, speaking only to your own toddler, waiting for the moment you all had to get up and go in to class. Now, my daughter is in a group for bigger kids, and the mums get to wait in the waiting room while the children jump, balance, spin, sing, dance, run, throw things, roly poly, swing, and perform triple pike turns or whatever.

So, every week, I am sitting on a plastic chair, uncomfortably close to other mothers for an hour and I am almost always the only one not talking. I take a kindle. I try to ignore the buzz. Occasionally I look around and feel sorry for myself, or wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

No. I am still not part of the buzz. But I can’t help it. To do things differently would be like trying to move a boulder with a feather.

If I can accept my limitations, and live happily that way, I can show my daughter a good example. I don’t want her to think she has to torture herself to fit in, so why should I put myself under that pressure?

At the last class, I wandered into the hallway to check on my daughter’s progress. It was really just to be somewhere a bit quieter. By chance, another mum came out and spoke to me really nicely. She asked how my daughter was getting on and I asked after hers. Our children have been in the same class for ages.

It felt good to have that small interaction. That is enough for me. Just enough to prove I am a worthy human being, with just a slightly different brain.


Today my city of birth was deduced from a phrase; not my accent, but a specific set of words that I used, without even thinking about it.

As a person with limited skill at making small talk and generally getting to know people, it’s probably inevitable that when I do make conversation, I rely on clichés and patterns. These stock phrases and safe topics are not designed to reveal much about me, only to facilitate a relationship or interaction; only to achieve an aim, which is frequently to make people think I’m not odd or unfriendly. So…

What do British people talk about?

The weather

Most famously – weather is always a safe topic for any conversation. It is limited, true, but it can suffice to show that you are friendly and not too weird.


When you’re with colleagues, naturally. Or when you’re in a coffee shop or taxi, for example. It is common to ask taxi drivers about their shift, or sympathise with your barrista about the lunchtime rush.

With your own colleagues you have a safe haven as long as you have a vague idea of what they do. At the very least, your generic conversation should comfortably last a few minutes.

How do we talk?

That’s the other important thing to remember. Generic conversation with strangers or people you don’t know well can benefit immensely from being peppered with humour. A touch of irony, or even sarcasm, can go a long way. Most of my conversations hinge on humour – mine, and that of the person I’m speaking to. If I can’t make a joke or say something witty, I feel I ought to be apologising for being so dull.

I probably even have stock jokes that I adapt and use time and again without even realising.

What I do know, from over-analysing a lot of my conversations, is that I follow the same patterns and repeat the same clichés over and over. They are my road map for most of my social journeys.