Monday, January 19, 2015

What Do You Wear to Work? A Conversation About Conversing.

Originally written January 2013:

Somebody asked me the other day what I wear to work.  It was an unusual question, one that I'd never think of asking someone before.  Oddly, it shows what interests the asker, rather than what is really interesting.

To answer her I blurbed out some vague answer about t-shirts and jeans, and an apron on the off-chance that I remember.  This led to a short conversation about aprons. Pretty lame stuff, really.

When I was a teenager, I started to watch people.  Read people, I guess, is a better way to describe it.  When you are shy, awkward, and not exactly radiating confidence, you become a listener rather than a speaker.  I had to push myself to converse with new people.

In my people-watching, I noticed were those who were particularly good at striking up conversation managed to tune in to one interesting thing (big or little) about their listener, and would ask about it.  Kids, work, health, recent canoe trip...but not just, "how is work going?" or "how are the kids?"  It was the sincere questions that intrigued me. "What is it like to work in ___?" "Tell me about your son," and other pointed questions that can't be answered with "fine," "good," or "nice."  It allowed the listener to become the speaker.

There are those who are genuine and interested in what people and their lives have to say.  Then there are those who love to hear their own voice continually, or, on the flip-side, who hate a lull in conversation and continue to rattle on about nothing.

I have a dear friend who has been what we call a "professional student" up until last year when he became "Dr." Daron, with a Masters, PhD and a many more letters to his name in cancer research and radiation therapy.  Do you think I could understand what he has done over the last ten years while I have wiped snotty noses, pulled lego out of the tub, made batches and batches of red velvet cake, and taken the dog to the vet?  No, but I try.

So when someone turns to me and asks, "What do you wear to work?" I realize although they may not be really interested, it is one of those questions to which I cannot answer, "fine," "good", or "nice." I am forced to talk about my life as a baker.  I certainly can't complain that people don't understand what it's like to do what I do, when I don't tell them.  Alas, here I am asked, and I stumble over the answer.

I know the answer now, days later.  It's really catchy, too.  "It's what I wouldn't wear, actually," I'd say, "I can't wear my hair down, or have loads of make up on, in case it falls into the batter.  The make up may smear off on my hands, and contaminate something.  Actually, that's why I never wear earrings.  It would be awful to make this giant cake only to find you are wearing one earring when it is all finished."  Funny, eh?  No opened-toes shoes is another one, and I could go on.  But are they really interested?  I sure don't find it interesting - but hey, you never know.

So are you the person who does all of the talking, or the person who asks the questions?  Or are you the person who says absolutely nothing and wears the same coloured clothing as the curtains in order to blend in?

Dare to be different.  If you hear your voice nattering on about your kids or your Nobel prize, stop and look around at who you are talking to. Find out about them.  If, on the other hand, you tend to pull back and get the other people talking, speak up, be proud of what you do, or what you are interested in, and listen to the sound of your own voice.

You may fail.  They may walk away from you because your family did not come off the boat from Holland, or simply because you talk too much about bean sprouts, but keep trying.

And you may continually start talking again because the other person is so quiet. Wait it out. Be gentle. They have something to say, even if it takes them forever to say it.

Me? Tonight, when Mr. and I are out, and I am asked about what I wear to work, I will loudly answer, with a smile, "a t-shirt, jeans, messy apron, and icing in my hair! And (gasp) sometimes pyjamas!"

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