Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Seven Non-Awkward Conversation Starters that Don't Involve Someone's Job

Act #100:  Scratch the surface.

If you're American, you know you're guilty of this.  You find yourself mingling with new faces at a party, an event, a social gathering.  You extend your hand and introduce yourself to someone.  They reciprocate and tell you their name.   Then there's that tiny awkward moment of silence where you both are trying to figure out who is going to make that first statement to carry on the conversation.   Typically, this is when a segue statement is made - something completely meaningless that no one really cares about just to break the ice.  So how 'bout that Louisville game last night, huh?  Are you friends with the bride or groom?  Your haircut is SO cute. 

And this is where one of you will inevitably ask the other person in some way shape or form how the other person earns a living. So, what do you do?  Do you work here in Lexington?  The groom tells me you are a lawyer.  Do you work for the state like the bride?  The fact that many of us spend most of our daily lives working probably has something to do with just how deeply we've come to define ourselves by our work.  While some of us love what we are doing with every fiber of our being, there's usually more to us than how we choose to put food on the table.  Some of us aren't even fortunate enough to love what we are doing but have found ourselves in various professional positions due to the economy, life circumstances, effects of marginalization, privilege, power inequities, or sheer luck/misfortune.  Others view work as simply a means to provide for a fulfilling life outside the hours of work.  So if our relationship to our jobs are so varied and complex, and if so many of us might not even be happy with our jobs, wouldn't it make more sense for us as humans to get to know aspects of one another beyond our career choices or happenstance?   It's harder than you think.  We've been hard-wired not only to identify ourselves in the context of our work, but also to socialize around this very identity.  The next time you are at a party meeting new people, I challenge you to try these alternative conversation starters that do not have the intention of discerning someone's chosen/given profession. You might be surprised at just how fascinating that non-descript middle-aged tax attorney in the dreary gray suit really is.

1.  Did you grow up in (insert the town you are in here)?

2.  With this weather change, my weekend was shot mowing the lawn and spring cleaning.  I hope you had a better weekend than me?

3.  I hear the bride and groom are going to Vegas for their honeymoon.  How fun is that, right?  Any memorable vacations you've taken lately?

4.  So what do people usually do for fun in (insert their town of residence here)?

5.  (Only if this is true of course.  This happened to me at an event just last night.)  You look a bit familiar and I just can't figure it out.   Any ideas where our paths may have crossed before?  This is usually when folks will start listing everything they are involved with - Do you work out at the Y?  I volunteer as a tour guide at the museum - do you ever come in there?  I went to college in Michigan - do you have any Michigan ties?

6.  On my way here I was listening to the radio and they were talking about (insert a safe topic like book clubs, the food bank needing peanut butter, Legofest).  And then follow it up with something like:  I wish I had time to read books these days - have you ever been in a book club?  

7.  So who do you think it'll take to defeat Mitch McConnell?  Just kidding.  Yeah, just to be safe, you might want to abide by this particular social norm and not bring up politics or religion during your first meeting.  

Although...........that could be a heck of a lot more entertaining than hearing about someone's busy tax season.

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