I’m not very good at small talk.
When you search deeply for meaning in every interaction, exchanges meant to charm or flatter or manipulate seem rather pointless to me.
One VP of Sales found me frustrating because I had no unfiltered ports. He was used to finding a way into people by sneaking past the defences, by telling them what they wanted to hear, by chatting about something they loved, and then getting a bit of conversational leverage.
That technique didn’t work with me, though. From a very early age my safety depended on understanding the actual meaning of what others were saying. I couldn’t just trust them or be lulled into hearing what I longed to hear. That was a very dangerous path, leading to blow-ups, broken dreams and emotional pain.
I’d much rather have honesty than sweetness, have truth rather than placation. Tell me what is going on, what you really think & feel, even if that isn’t sweet or nice or cute. I can read the meaning, even in a southern belle’s ritualistically kind words as they are laced with a bit of strychnine.
Feeling like you are trying to manipulate me with some bullshit is a good way to just set me on edge, turn my crap detectors to high and make me assume that there is something you are hiding. Those interactions make me hear the “Jaws” theme in my head, ominous cellos that warn of submerged danger.
I know that everyone doesn’t feel this way. Being present for deep meaning all the time is just living in a world of “too much information” for them. They like pleasantries, like assuming the easy and shallow, like repeating the same things. To engage is to look for challenges where none need to occur. Life is basically simple, just like people, and they already know the rules, so complicating it is just some kind of intellectual masturbation.
These people just tend to avoid me until they run across something complicated. They marvel at how I jump in, peeling away layers and delving deeper, getting to meaning in a witty and almost magical way. It’s all great fun until I start to look at them and their choices, at which point they decide they want to just placate me with some niceties, something that should distract me by making me feel nice, as a defence against being examined too deeply.
I grew up queer in a what always felt like a very dangerous world. A good solid understanding of the terrain is what kept me safe, not the ability to pleasantly shoot the shit with others, spewing nice conventional wisdom that was supposed to just feed the egos of those around me.
Being transparent, honest and coherent, is one of the things that makes me a great partner. You know where I am, what I am thinking and feeling. I share what I see, offering situational awareness. I am encouraging and positive, absolutely, but I know that the best thing I can do is find a constructive way to share hard won knowledge, lessons which help each of us become better and more present.
If I sense that you are concealing something, my spidey-senses go off and my trust level goes down. I won’t feel safe sharing with you.
Worse, if I sense you are pandering to me, treating me like some kind of client, to be kept at arms length and just given pleasantries designed to feed my ego, well, I will see you as someone to be watched for danger. The effect of trying to manipulate me is to set me on edge, heightening my defensive posture.
Many people play the social game in a conscious way, working to appear sweet and nice as much as possible. Their theory is that you should make others feel good by giving them strokes to get them on your side if you want them to work with you.
I was once told that I could never be a good manager because I wasn’t “enough of a cheerleader” by a VP who thought manipulation was the key to success. I was also told by a departing gal in Marketing Services the she always liked me because she thought I was honest. She knew the clique of marketing gals thought I was a bit sour because I challenged them, but she also knew that people who worked with me understood that honesty always kept them on solid ground.
One of my key roles was in leading the technical people, the nerds in the basement. While salespeople love a bit of hot air — just like the VP of sales did — nerds don’t trust it. There is an old joke about a gal in her first computer class who said “Oh, I get it! It doesn’t do what you want it to do, it does what you tell it to do!” No amount of sweet talk will make a program run better or more elegantly.
Being honest doesn’t mean that you don’t assist and encourage, bringing a positive can-do attitude. I always coached to search for solutions, effective and doable ways to get done what we need to happen in a clever and elegant way. There can be a great deal of satisfaction in finding a graceful compromise, much more than in being told everything is hunky dory when it is not.
I’m a great person to be around when you are committed to growth and healing. When you want cheerleading, though, a boost to the ego and an affirmation of inflated dreams, well, I can be a bit of a challenge. It’s likely this is one reason this blog isn’t a favourite of many transpeople who want their dreams inflated rather than having to engage the real challenges of living a trans life. Those who are facing those daily choices, though, can often find some value in my deep thought.
I’m not very good at small talk. I am on a quest for truth, honesty, authenticity, revelation, openness and actualization, which means I am on a quest for meaning not for sweet pleasantries. That’s a lovely quest when you need to engage the questions, but rather challenging when you just want to duck them to keep your life simple and easy, staying focused on other things.
The way to connect with me is simple: listen closely, take my meaning and mirror it back with your unique vision. That’s what I do to connect with others, modelling the best choices I know.
To me, that seems simple, but for people who are used to small talk, well, they just don’t get the joke.