A recent family wedding got me thinking about diversity. Not racial, religious, gender or political, but instead, conversational diversity. How we engage with each other is as different — and personal — as how we dress. While this is obvious on paper, in practice, we usually don’t even notice our chatty peculiarities.
Observing my relatives at the wedding took me back to encounters with my Aunt Gen, now deceased, who would share such sparse tidbits about births, deaths, marriages and graduations, I would wonder just whose family was she talking about! So to fill in specifics, I would curiously ask her questions. Dumbfounded, and probably a bit insulted, Aunt Gen would declare, “Honey, I don’t ask!”
She assumed that personal secrets were stored in the details. If you didn’t share, you didn’t want to.
I have a sister, however, who deeply connects with people through her natural, and unassuming, ability to draw out verbiage from even the most reserved folks. She can sit for hours talking to a stranger, and then walk away armed with facts that could only be known through a very personal encounter. Rarely does she divulge anything about herself, however, she chooses instead to keep her private life private.
My husband, on the other hand, loves to “work” a room, effortlessly making small talk with as many people as possible. My social butterfly impressively memorizes acquaintances’ conversations and often surprises people when he later recalls their children’s names, ages and even where they attended college.
As for me, I can converse with a range of people when it’s required and have had many deep, fulfilling conversations over the years. But if there’s a dance floor, well, honey, I don’t ask. I dance.
Those very different approaches to conversation were front and center at the wedding. There were so many familiar faces on the groom’s side, my nephew, and so many fresh faces on the bride’s side.
True to form, my younger sister spent considerable time with a cousin whom she hadn’t seen in years. I could see her asking question after question, and our relative looked thrilled that someone was taking such an interest in his life.
My husband, on the other hand, was happily engaged in a roomful of conversations. I could see his Southern charm, confidence and poise quickly turning acquaintances into long-time friends who would one day stay at our home when they passed through Virginia on vacation.
I, on the other hand, was comfortable chit chatting away but not committing to any one discussion. I would ask perfunctory questions about jobs or children. During pauses, however, I would race to the dance floor, glad to be moving and sweating, no talk necessary.
As the reception wound down, my sister had discovered the impressive professional history of our cousin, which she shared with me later in the evening. And my husband, well, he was now conversing with the valet attendant who just graduated from his North Carolina alma mater.
As for me, I hobbled back to my chair, feet aching from the confines of new shoes and an older body “dabbing” across the dance floor. What was my communication style that evening?
“Oh honey, don’t ask.”