I work out five times a week. I’m not sharing this fun fact to brag or because there’s a correlation between physical exercise and storytelling. I’m telling you this because my exercise routine exposed a huge roadblock in the way that I communicate.
I go to an exercise studio on the 4th floor of an office building. The lobby is tiny with not too much foot traffic. The elevators are slow and I usually have a good five minutes of waiting for one to arrive. Peter is the front desk associate. He’s in his 50’s or 60s and is always smiling and says “Hi, how are you today?” In most situations, this question prompts me to launch into a story of how my day has actually been and then inviting a story a return.
I pride myself on connecting with people that I hardly know. I do this with the women at my local post office, my eyebrow waxer, Lyft drivers, Whole Foods employees, etc. I really enjoy getting to know people beyond an exchange of pleasantries. Yet somehow, every time I see Peter, I can’t stop talking about the weather. And I don’t even talk about it in an interesting way. I usually just say something like, “It’s so nice out today!” or “Ugh this rain!” "See you later and stay warm!" When I enter that lobby I go into a conversation panic and just default to a topic that 90% of people living in Great Britain choose as their go-to talking point.
In my dream world, Peter and I would know about each other's hobbies, families, life aspirations. We would have two minute verbal exchanges with meaning. No one wants to talk about the weather. I bet that even Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz is sick of talking about rain, sleet, and snow.
I’m grateful that my communication hurdle is low stakes, and that it is only happening with one person. But I bring it up because we all have something (or someone) that gets in the way of how we articulate who we are, what we want, and how we go about the day. There might be a moment where you end up talking about the weather with someone, when you really need to tell them something serious or significant. To avoid these instances, it’s important to take a moment of reflection and identify your communication roadblocks.
First, think about your strengths. When it comes to speaking with others, where are you the most comfortable? Behind a podium? In a conference room? One-on-one in your office? At a social event? What are the things that you enjoy talking about? Your career? Family? Travel? What stories do you have that you love to share with others? Are you better with formal or in-formal types of communication?
Now that you’ve identified the ways that you like to communicate, let’s think about your struggles. Is there a scenario that you find yourself in where you freeze up and lose control over your words? Networking events? Team meetings at work? The gym? Is there someone in your life that you really can’t connect with? A family member? Co-worker? News kiosk owner? What is your go-to small talk starter? Is it the dreaded "W" word? Which is more difficult for you: formal or in-formal types of communication?
Now ask yourself this question: What do you want to change about your communication style?
I know that if I have a few stories in my back pocket, that I’ve thought through and prepared, I will flourish during impromptu conversations with strangers or acquaintances. I talk about the crazy neighbors that I had last year, my audio documentary project, or the story of my boyfriend’s dad almost winning the PowerBall. When I share a story with someone, I’m relaxed, I can continue the conversation, and I know that I can communicate anything else with ease. Give it a try. Find one to three stories that you can use to tear down the wall of awkward small talk!
If you are interested in using more stories from your life to create connections and break down communication barriers, let’s chat. I offer 1:1 Story Coaching sessions both in-person and virtually. In just three sessions, we’ll strategize your strengths and weaknesses, brainstorm the stories that align with your public speaking goals, and work on one story that you can use for those “back pocket” moments. Want to learn more? Schedule a 20 minute video call.
PS. Looking for some interesting stories about the weather? Ted has you covered.