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I’ve lost my conversational mojo – can I relearn the art of small talk?

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April 17, 2021 at 10:00AM

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Been up to much lately? After a year of isolation, I’ve forgotten how to talk to people – but help is at hand

A good friend of mine, who started a new job six months ago, is about to meet his colleagues face to face for the first time. They have been buddied up in pairs to make socialisation less daunting, he said. It sounded like breeding pandas, or children being dropped off at summer camp, rather than grownups working in the civil service. Having interacted only through remote meetings, he knows everything about their interior decor and nothing about them. Small talk’s going to be weird, he texted me. A few seconds later, my phone buzzed. “What is small talk again?”

Damned if I know. I’ve lost my conversational mojo, too. I used to pride myself on being a good listener, quick on my feet, self-aware. But I’ve noticed signs that I’m slipping. The first time someone asked how I was, after months of social isolation, I forgot to reply. I’d grown accustomed to seeing conversations as things that happened on TV, that didn’t involve me. When I did speak, my throat gurgled before the words emerged, like taps being run for the first time in a holiday home. The last time someone initiated a conversation with me, I babbled for eight minutes about how I’d been growing pineapples from other pineapples. I rambled on about water rooting, suckers and slips, the available research on crown splitting as observed in the Niger delta. My friend was not interested in pineapples. He had only asked what I’d been up to. The self‑evident answer was, “not enough”.

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