Small Talk with Set-up Strangers

I love small talk. I’m usually aware of the ones to avoid, yet, of course, there’s no way to be 100% successful at dodging creepy chatters.

Small talk can be really successful…but sometimes feels like speed dating. If someone opens with a muffled “Hey” and a complete avoidance of eye contact, you know you probably haven’t met your conversational companion. At the same time, if they open with a boisterous “HEYYYY!!” and a hug the instant upon meeting you, they definitely shouldn’t be your conversational companion.

Unless, of course, you’re an actor in a Lifetime Original Movie. In these situations, the “HEYYY!” with an instant hug is actually because the pair felt such a powerful force immediately after that first meeting that simply couldn’t be avoided. This same couple happens to get married in the next scene and —”Well, would you look at that!”—there’s a baby on the way during the next. They end up having their wedding and also the birth of their child at the place of their serendipitious meeting.

Let’s hope that nothing similar to that story is ever a screenplay.

Since I’m starting my new job as a high school teacher and coach next year, I’ve lately been running into countless situations that require small talk. Generally, these situations have conversational common ground: We work in Education.

However, I would like you to think back to your teachers. In some cases, the common ground of Education is pretty much the same common ground as saying you’re human or from the same state. Basically, there are many cases of small talk dating mismatches which are probably far more likely on Match.com than the commercials suggest (1 in 5 successful relationships begin on Match…REALLY?!).

So far, my small talk with new strangers (soon-to-be co-workers) has been successful. However, I have a feeling that I will not be able to escape the inevitable. I will have some set-up that will be disastrous.  These meetings are not structured. Like regular dates, we have no agenda. It’s simply to “get to know each other.”

And, like bad dates, these “get to know each other” meetings can be unbearably long with an imperfect pairing.

Imagine being paired with a Ben Stein. A 30 minute lunch may fly when you’re with your friends, but if you’re on a date with Bueller’s teacher, it’s bound to be torturous.

How do you handle set-up small talk?

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