What to say when you don’t know what to say

I have been an avid follower of the author and artist Austin Kleon for quite a while now, and often look forward to his series of weekly newsletters. I was not always too fond of newsletters where content is linked back to their own blogs, but for Austin I made an exception, as he shares some very interesting and insightful things. Austin, like all of us aspire here, has made a habit of writing daily — along with his writings in other mediums (he keeps a daily logbook, a physical journal, and I think a sketchbook as well).

I have to confess here that I am not always very confrontational. Every time when someone is being rude to me or the conversation takes an ugly turn, more so than often I would flee or was too stunned to reply or fight back. Being in a habit of a notorious planner as well, I feel like whatever words that are going to come out of my mouth must be properly fact-checked (mentally), diplomatic, and if possible, will not hurt the other party. So it frustrates me tremendously when I am faced with a confrontation or conflict, and I do not have enough data to articulate my opinions.

So it makes sense when I am quite happy to come across Austin Kleon’s list of premeditated script of what to say when you don’t know what to say, because this sounds like something I would actually do. I might have snapped the other day when a friend tried to compete over something meaningless, so all I could muster was, “Well, good for you.” That’s probably the meanest I could have been.

Austin’s post ends by sharing this useful anecdote from Paul Ford’s post:

When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”

Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult. I once went to a party and met a very beautiful woman whose job was to help celebrities wear Harry Winston jewelry. I could tell that she was disappointed to be introduced to this rumpled giant in an off-brand shirt, but when I told her that her job sounded difficult to me she brightened and spoke for 30 straight minutes about sapphires and Jessica Simpson. She kept touching me as she talked. I forgave her for that. I didn’t reveal a single detail about myself, including my name. Eventually someone pulled me back into the party. The celebrity jewelry coordinator smiled and grabbed my hand and said, “I like you!” She seemed so relieved to have unburdened herself. I counted it as a great accomplishment.

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