How many times do you resort to the age old conversation starter, filler, ender - a comment about the weather? I am sure it is at least once a day. Unless you are a meteorologist (which is actually an interesting career choice) I would say weather conversations are the ultimate deflector. Especially in Sydney it is getting old to talk about the rain or lack of rain depending on what day it is.
We tend to have such conversations when we are in uncomfortable spaces - whether physical or emotional. Small confined places such as a lift/elevator or taxi. Emotionally testing moments such as visiting the in-laws or waiting in the queue/line to buy your lunch next to your boss.
When we engage in such topics we tend to skim the surface and have what I call 'safe conversations'.
Why do we have safe conversations?
I believe there are three reasons:
1. We are afraid.
2. We are lazy.
3. We are unskilled.
So which category do you fit into?
I am afraid...
Being human means that fear is built into our radar system. At a really primitive level we have aspects to ourselves that sense when situations are safe or not safe. Of course it's good to have these defenses just in case we walk in front of a speeding car. So it is natural that if we have learned to respond to fear from a defensive position that we would go to the safe place.
So if we are heavily influenced by fear then we will avoid conversations that we really need to have.
The consequence - we hold onto issues, bury the emotions, don't speak about what we need to. We limit our expression and bottle up what needs to be cleared from in side of us.
I am lazy...
Ok, so even using this word presumes judgment. What might seem like laziness to one person may simply be a lack of importance or capacity in the other. So lets assume there are two possibilities - laziness or poor attitude.
Irrespective of how we internally view the conversation the perception by the other person will be negative. When we just couldn't be bothered trying then we are saying 'you don't matter' or 'this situation is beneath me' or 'I have other things to do'. So if you realise that you just don't care maybe you should re look at why you are in the conversation in the first place. I would also wonder why the other person is too.
I am unskilled...
Most likely you share some affinity with the idea that you could brush up on your communication skills. Perhaps even learn how to start a conversation, be in conversation and politely move on when you need to. These basic skills are not always taught to us. Instead we rely on our environment, other role models. Some of us get lucky and have great opportunities to learn such as work training courses or a good mentor. For others it is hit or miss.
Safe conversations keep us from really going there
So safe conversations protect and defend, hide a lack of interest or cover up for poor skills.
When we choose to only engage with a person on safe topics we stay exactly that - superficial. We fill the air with words and distract ourselves from going to any depth on a point, matter or issue.
We also don't risk anything in that we avoid self disclosure.
My observation is that when we verbally interact with someone on the least meaningful level possible we are avoiding any connection with the person. We may be unsure about whether we can trust the other person, we may hold back out of a need to control the situation or even use disclosure manipulatively.
In the end you walk away from an exchange with nothing to gain.
Or in other words, if all you know is the weather report then you don't know anything about the other person.