You don’t say!

Since I am currently on my way to a conference and facing the “goes without saying” obligation to network, I thought this would be an appropriate time to introduce one of the key skills I have cultivated as a shallow person. Wait, perhaps I should take a step back and admit that this one characteristic, which I have spent many an hour perfecting, has perhaps done more to cement my status as a shallow person than almost anything else I have done. I can confidently say that mastering this skill has served me well in a multitude of situations I have encountered over the years. I know you are wondering what in heaven’s name I am talking about so let me explain.

As I see it, no matter how hard we try, in everyone’s life there comes a time when it is necessary to engage with people we have no real interest in. Now I may be shallow but for the most part I like to appear to be a decent human being. That doesn’t always come easy so I have developed a mechanism by which I am able to appease both others and myself as I make my way through the maze of unavoidable interactions. Some of these are simple encounters; it’s summer and you’re out gardening and you know your neighbor is going to come over to talk about your current crop of dandelions and how you might try getting rid of them and you really have no intention of ever doing so. Others are more complicated; like when a person that you vaguely recognize walks up to you and starts talking about your kids, job and mother-in-law and you are pretty sure that given the depth of their knowledge you must know them but can’t recall how or why or, at this particular moment, even their name. And then there is the apex of all encounters, the conference, where there is more than a little expectation that you will meet, greet and not only have conversations but intellectual ones with people you have only known for moments and more than likely will never set eyes on again, and all you really want to do is sample the hor d’oeuvres and hightail it back to your hotel room.

So how does a person such as myself navigate through a world of social obligations without losing their identity? In the shallow vernacular we like to call our technique “feigning interest” and while I am sure it is not unique to our world I think it is fair for us to take credit for openly recognizing and naming this most useful of all skills. Yes it’s true, I have perfected this art and without further adieu I’d like to share these tricks of the trade with you.

Feigning Interest “how to’s”:

  1. It’s back to the mirror (remember Forgetting…it’s an art) to practice your “I’m excited to see you and make you think I want to learn more about you” smile.
  2. At the same time you’re going to need to acquire a complete set of verbal and nonverbal social cues. You might want to start with: “uh huh”, “yep”, “you don’t say!”, a cute little chuckle, and a knowing nod of the head.
  3. Those verbal cues work especially well when the interaction takes place on the telephone. Used right, you should be able to get oodles of work done with minimal interruptions.
  4. When faced with someone whose identity has eluded your memory you’re going to need a believable greeting . Try, “Long time, no see” or if you suspect you may have bumped into them more recently go with “So how’s it going?” even though you have no idea what “it” is.
  5. Prepare some generic questions that can be used in most every encounter. Be careful though as a wrong turn here may cause you to appear more interested than you actually are, resulting in a prolonged and completely meaningless conversation. You will never get that time back.
  6. If you have to network at a conference, always keep your eyes open for someone you vaguely know, gesture them over while mentioning how much they know about whatever it is you are talking about, enthusiastically introduce them to your new friend and then quickly excuse yourself leaving the two to carry on without you. Consider it a win-win.
  7. Always have an exit strategy in your back pocket. You can prepare some closing remarks in advance or feel free to use this tried and true favourite of mine, “This has been great and I’m really sorry I have to scadoodle. Let’s do lunch sometime”. Word of caution: Some people will take this to heart and actually try to call you for lunch. Unless you are a glutton for punishment you better have a contingency plan for that as well.

As with all things worth doing, this too will take some time to do well. My advice is to stick with it and it won’t be long before you too can enjoy the advantages of uninvested engagement.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my dear friend Kev (remember Kev? The shallow guy I had lunch with for all those years) helped me to elucidate the aforementioned steps. This is the first time we have worked together on the blog and, as usual we laughed until we cried . And, of course, we talked a little:

Me: So Kev, looks like we did pretty good with this one.
Kev: Yep.
Me: Maybe we could do this again sometime.
Kev: Uh huh.
Me: You know now that we have actually worked together I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that while we are equally shallow I just might be the nicer one in this duo.
Kev: You don’t say!


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6 thoughts on “You don’t say!

  1. Barbara Didie Dulberg says:

    Wendy: I think you have become quite stuck up, and now, I shall pay more attention to our conversations to see if you are using your “feigning interest” techniques, even, with me.
    Sometimes, people can tell if you are interested in what they are saying, or just being polite, so you may be found out. (?”xxoo”?) D.

  2. Ron Hannaford says:

    Wendy, you certainly are NOT stuck up, just honest. Not many people would be brave enough to share such honesty in public. However, I do think some of the things to which you refer might be culturally determined, in that, some from a non-US context might not play the “game” quite Iike you depict. Maybe you should go to a similar conference in another part of the world and test your thesis. 🙂

    • wcaplan says:

      Now there’s a good idea! I’m thinking I could start with Paris or Rome and make my way around the world from there.

      • Ron Hannaford says:

        I was even thinking of an out of the way place like Australia. People are funny down there – “funny humorous” not “funny peculiar.” Mind you I could also enjoy time in Europe trying to learn about making friends at conferences!

        I hope you have safely returned to Alberta now and that you have found some of your thesis may have weaknesses although much truth is contained therein.

      • wcaplan says:

        Thesis? 😉

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