Coping Skill #16 - Verbal Curling: Tips for Conquering Small Talk
This blog is about another proactive coping skill. It has a well known, but opposing truism in team sports that all serious fans have heard: "sometimes the best defense is an even better offense." This coping skill embodies the flip side of that concept, i.e., that "sometimes the best offense is an even better defense." It involves what would appear to be a paradox of sorts: proactively being reactive. This may sound like double-talk, but that's only because this coping mechanism is counter-intuitive. It requires practice to perfect, but I've found that even practicing this coping skill can be fun. If well executed, it can miraculously lead others to think you're a lot smarter and more socially adept, and sometimes with the ladies even more charming, than you really are.
I hate cocktail parties, especially those around the holidays that are populated by people I don't know and with whom I have next to nothing in common. Nor have I ever enjoyed attending my wife's business related cocktail parties. I can never separate the good guys from the bad and endure these events in fear that I will say something that might embarrass my wife. Until I discovered the coping skill described below, I usually spent the better part of business cocktail parties standing in a corner nursing a glass of cola, all the while wishing that I were invisible. [I knew that if I faced the corner, as was often required of me in grade school, others would find it odd.]
However, for me, the worst cocktail parties have always been those that do not mark a holiday or an event around which I can wrap some tired cliché or inane small talk. At these events, while I don't pretend to know what the women talk about, I do know the men engage in treacherous contests of one-ups-man-ship.
I'm not good with sports statistics [I couldn't care less.] and don't play golf or basketball. I bowled in a local league for two years when I was in high school, but my average score was so low that the team captain [my own uncle, believe it or not] asked me to resign from the team. I used to play city-league softball [second base and short stop], but have found that in the eyes of most men with a drink in their hand who are trying to establish dominance, softball is considered effeminate. [They've obviously never played the game.] I also enjoyed scuba diving [I was trained by a hardhat diver before certificates were required.] and intramural flag football [you know, tackle without the benefit of a helmet or any pads], but have yet to find anyone with these sports in common.
So what is the coping skill that I eventually mastered that has made cocktail parties, if not fun, at least bearable? It has no official name, so I named it "Verbal Curling" after the sport of curling.
Curling is a sport that involves two teams of four persons each and shares some common features with bowling and shuffleboard. One of the players launches across the ice a highly polished ellipsoid stone of regulation size, shape, weight, and with a gooseneck handle, aiming at a circular target area marked on the ice. As this stone glides along the ice, soft or wet spots, surface irregularities and contours of the ice affect the course of the stone.
Once launched, a second member of the team runs ahead of the stone with a broom, sweeping away anything that might alter the course of the stone, or sometimes, deliberately trying to change the direction in which the stone is traveling.
If the truth were known, I still hate cocktail parties, but I've figured out a way to survive the torture. When attending cocktail parties these days, I play the role of the second player in curling. I try to alter the course of the discussions among the men, not by running ahead with a broom, but by asking leading questions. When I first started this "game", I would occasionally "slip on the ice and get clobbered by the stone", i.e., my questions led the discussion in directions that I did not intend or want, but this soon became a rare event.
What made this whole exercise fun was the fact that no one ever figured out what I was doing.
Trust me! I am not delusional. Every one knows you can change the direction and content of verbal discussions through interactions with the other participants. In fact, most people do it all the time without even thinking about it. With Verbal Curling, you simply intervene deliberately with the concious intent of moving the discussion in one direction or another.
Remember, when talking with someone for the first time and forever thereafter, if you ask questions about the things in which that person is interested, if you let them pontificate, they will go away liking you and thinking you are a smart and interesting person. If you ask questions about an interest of theirs about which you know nothing, they will find you astute and take pride in the fact that they could "educate" you.
Although this coping skill requires practice to perfect, it is easy to learn by simply trying different types of questions in different circumstances. The possibilities are endless and the process entertaining.
Verbal Curling involves a form of Active Listening coupled with deliberate intervention on your part. See my blog entitled Coping Skills #2A - Active Listening.
* * *
Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.