Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chatting with strangers

With 2 of our daughters on soccer teams which play on alternate nights, we spend a majority of our evenings sitting on the sidelines of soccer fields these days. It’s not a bad way to spend an evening. We usually bike there and back, so it’s been a great way to get the family out for bike rides. It’s been a pleasant spring – very little rain, and just a few really cool days.

Because we usually go as a family, Maddie has no choice but to come along. She doesn’t mind, especially when it’s a field with a play-structure close by or when Julie’s best friend’s little sister is there for her to play with.

Last night was one of those nights when there was neither play structure nor best friend’s little sister in the near vicinity. So, because she’s not particularly enthralled with soccer yet, she had to find her own entertainment.

For awhile, she borrowed books from the mom next to us who’d come well supplied with Dr. Suess books for her young daughter. Then she bugged me to get her soccer ball out of the car (the game was in Lorette – a little far to bike) and she played with that. Then, when she spotted three kids playing not far away, she ran off to join them. Before long, she’d offered up her soccer ball and they were making up soccer “rules” to imitate their older sisters.

Sometimes, I wish I had Maddie’s boldness. She has always assumed people will like her. Unlike our other 2 daughters, she has no qualms about marching up to unfamiliar children and engaging them in play. She happily borrows books from a strange mom, never worrying whether she is doing the “right” thing. She’ll speak to almost anyone, and only has very rare moments of shyness.

The thing is – when you go through life assuming people will like you, people usually DO. People are drawn to confidence and boldness. Maddie has always made friends easily, and so far I haven’t witnessed any kids being turned off by her straightforward approach. She’s not pushy or anything, just friendly. (No, she’s not perfect either – she WAS getting a little bossy with the soccer rules last night. :-)

I wish, when I entered an unfamiliar place full of unfamiliar faces, that I could be as bold as she is. I wish I could walk in, confident that when I stopped to introduce myself to a stranger, that person would quickly become my friend.

It’s not that I’m particularly insecure. In fact, I think I come across as quite confident. It’s probably a little ironic, though, that I’m more comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd than I am speaking one-on-one with a stranger. That’s probably why people assume that I’m confident – because I’m a fairly natural public speaker.

I’m just not a great conversation starter. I don’t handle small talk well. I worry about not being interesting enough. I worry about tripping over my tongue and coming across as stupid. I rarely assume people will like me, and usually assume they’d rather be talking to someone else.

I work at it, because I know that I’m always glad when someone takes the time to engage me in conversation and so therefore assume they’d be glad when I do the same for them. It’s just not a very natural thing for me, so it makes me feel awkward. Funny, I know, that I’ve chosen a career in communications when I have trouble talking to strangers at a party for fear of tripping over my tongue. The thing is, I can communicate quite confidently and boldly when I KNOW what I’m communicating about. I’ve even talked quite comfortably with Prime Ministers, because I had a purpose (it’s kinda fun telling Prime Ministers what to do :-). I just have trouble when I’m forging unfamiliar territory and “small talk” is my only tool. To tell you the truth, some people probably think I’m snobby, because I come across as confident on the stage, and then I don’t engage well in conversation when I get off the stage.

It’s the same thing for blogs. When I go on the “popular” blogs – the ones with 25 or more comments on a regular basis – I rarely leave comments. I assume they’ve got enough interesting people surrounding them – they don’t need boring old me. If I make chatty comments, and trip over my tongue/keyboard, perhaps they’ll think “what is SHE doing on my blog?” And yet, I KNOW it's silly, because I know how much I love and value comments, even if it's just a simple acknowledgement that you've been here.

I suppose we all have elements of insecurity. Some people are amazed that I can get up in front of a crowd and speak without stumbling, and then I, in turn, am amazed at how comfortable they are chatting with strangers.


Gina said...

Heather, I am the same way with the bigger blogs. For some reason, I think I will get lost in the crowd, or whatever.

Luckily, I have no problems chatting with people, either in big or small groups or one on one.

As time goes by, I have realized how lucky I am, and so is Maddie!

Liz said...

Me too. I just don't see the point in leaving a comment when there are so many there already. Although, I know if I ever had that many, I'd read them all.

I also feel more comfortable speaking at work, because I know what the heck I am talking about. But I never could start up a conversation at the softball field.

oshee said...

I am also the same way with the bigger blogs. There must be some who aren't that way, or else how else would they end up with 100 comments each post??

Most of the time I can chat up people pretty good. Unless I'm in a severly antisocial downswing where I won't even answer the phone. I have worked in enough service jobs it is usually like putting back on the comfy old sneakers.

My daughter (6 yr-old) is so much like your little girl. She is so bold. So strong in her convictions and understandings of things. She is a tough one to get to change her mind when she has decided on something. Other children actually seem drawn to her. It amazes me. I was so not like that in school.

Simply Coll said...

I too am uncomfortable with strangers and often have trouble engaging in small talk. I have always envied those that can walk into a party and just start a conversation. I am lucky, in a way, that my husband is one of those people. I just kind of hang on to his coat tails. :-)

Anvilcloud said...

Are we twins or something? I am very much like this, often finding it harder to talk one-on-one than to a group. I am not at all good at small talk or thinking of ways to stimulate conversation.

I just plain leave big blogs alone. Unless Mel is now considered big. I still read her. I want to read and talk to ordinary people.

Michele said...

and popular is not necessarily equal to interesting. n'est pas?

Pink Shoes said...

Well said, and an admirable child.

Hope said...

Well, then I am glad I am not a popular blog, etting far less than 25 comments, because I enjoy yours.
I share the same insecurities, can speak to a large group, manage important events etc, but small talk evades me.
I have to be truthful though, I'm a pretty dead on judge of people and sometimes I'm just not interested in getting to know everyone.I will be polite, A snob, i hope not, but so many people, so little time

ccap said...

Yeah, I keep wondering if one day Maddie will change. If at some point something happens that takes away that bravado.

Liz said...

Hope! That is so well said because I agree, there are certain people I just know I don't have any desire to get to know so I just don't bother trying. I've always been like that.

Janet said...

Heather, you have LOTS of interesting things to say! Let your mouth move, in a crowd, as your fingers move when you're at your computer. We love your words.

I DO realize this is one of those "easier said than done" recommendations, though. I get really tongue-tied sometimes myself, and I'm the queen of insecurities (just ask John).