Navigation Menu+

Exercises in Conversation

Posted on Nov 29, 2016 by in Random Subjects | 10 comments



My local Target store has self-service kiosks. They look helpful, but if you have used one you already know that they don’t work at least 50% of the time. You inevitably end up standing at a lane with a blinking “help me” light, and it takes FOR-EV-ER for someone to come and help you (sure, the lines at Target can sometimes be long, but the wait at a malfunctioning kiosk is usually longer). Eventually a cashier comes to the rescue. I like making small talk as they fix the kiosk. We complain together over how annoying the machine is. It’s a bonding moment… and likely the real reason why I keep trying to use the stupid things.


I’ve been thinking a lot about the number of self-serve/automated services I try to use every day in the elusive pursuit of efficient errand-running. They are neat and sometimes convenient, but I’ve become increasingly aware that every time I use one, I’m missing out on something intangible and important.


It’s easy to think of other examples where we are lured to trade human interaction for “ease and efficiency”: instant cash machines, automatic postal carrier machines, on-line grocery shopping, anything from But each time I choose not to talk to a person IN person, I’m left feeling a little empty. I bet if I really wanted to, I could complete a long list of errands without ever saying hello to a single person, and that’s not a good thing. At the end of a full day, I wouldn’t have any people stories from my travels, and I definitely wouldn’t feel happy or light. I’m already feeling more lonely, just imagining it.


And what about simple communication? That’s all technology-ized, too. It used to be in person or by phone, and now it’s primarily via a screen. We type. We text. We communicate in CAPS for volume. We have emojis that convey emotion. We’ve taken the satisfying connection part out of our interactions with each other. It’s crazy. We think that emailing and texting and typing on our ever present keyboards makes us more connected than ever. It doesn’t. Nope. All that this “connectivity” really does is drop us further down the rabbit hole of isolation; your computer or phone can’t hug you or provide comfort. Sure, the person on the distant keyboard may type perfect, soothing words of beauty, but that person isn’t really with you. Heck, they may not even be the person you think they are!


Why do we do this? Why do we choose to not talk to each other?


Forgive me. I don’t mean to sound so bleak. I’m simply frustrated by watching all of us looking at our screens instead of each other.


Here’s my suggestion… It’s time to look up.


Put down your phone. Step away from whatever social media site you can’t quit. Take the conversation outside of your head and talk to someone. A real someone. Even better – talk to someone you don’t know! Strike up a completely small-talky conversation. See what you get. Start with something simple.


Exercise #1:

You: Hi.

Them: Hello.

You: Ready for snow?

Them: Nope.


After trying a couple of short conversations, mix it up a little; throw a compliment out into the air just for the heck of it. Positivity begets positivity, and spontaneous compliments give a positive spin that makes both the converser and conversee feel good. I do this a lot – especially to children. Why? Toddlers don’t generally travel alone, and complimenting a little person usually makes their grownup companion part of the conversation, too. It’s a two-fer.


Exercise #2:

You: Hi!

Little person: Hello.

You: I like your shoes.

Little person: [looks down at shoes and smiles. Big person smiles at little person… and then they both look up at you with a smile] My shoes are pink!


Ok! You’re on a roll! Now, go bigger; try putting a conversation into the errand-running part of your day. It’s actually harder than you might think because it takes time, and time is precious. It’s worth it, though. Trust me. Go to the grocery store for something you need, leave your phone in your pocket/purse (unless you have apple pay or something), and converse with the cashier as you check out.


Exercise #3

Cashier: Hi.

You: Hello.

Cashier: Did you find everything you were looking for today?

You: Yes, I did. I really like this granola. Do lots of people buy it?

Cashier: [after looking at you, temporarily stunned by the realization that you were actually listening to the question, starts to smile] Yes! We can’t keep it in stock. Have you tried putting some in chocolate chip cookies?


Baby steps. Baby steps, dear ones. Baby steps.



The Takeaway:

Choose not to isolate yourself, starting right now. Close the computer and start a real conversation with someone. Maybe even talk about this posting?




  1. This is a great idea. Everyone is telling us to stop looking at our phones but no one tells us what to do instead. And every time I look someone in the eye and smile and chit chat with them, I know that I’m teaching my son how to be a person in the world – not just a body taking up space.

    • Agreed. Kiddos are watching us ALL the time… when we’re overusing screens, it’s hard to tell them to turn theirs off. By putting down our phones, everyone benefits. Thank you for reading and commenting! Missed seeing you in class this week… hopefully next!

  2. My family has always been a bit embarrassed by me as this is what I always try to do. Lately, I’ve made a point at looking at name tags and saying the person’s name. People seem genuinely surprised when I do it, too. Doing this at Disney once and being genuinely interested in a cast member’s story got me an all day long FastPass…😊

    • Why be embarrassed? Break social norms! Acknowledge the person right in front of you! LOVE IT! And, you have such an engaging style… I’m not surprised that your interest in the Disney cast member resulted in such a nice gesture!

  3. “I really like this granola. Do lots of people buy it?” Right on, Melissa. Great insight and well said. I’m ready to strike up a convo with the Target cashier tomorrow. (Btw, what kind of granola IS it? 😉 )

    • Well it WAS the chocolate covered pumpkin spice granola from Trader Joe’s. It was UH-MAZE-ING and I DO NOT like most pumpkin spice things. This was fantastic, though, and would have been tasty in cookies of any kind. Unfortunately it was a seasonal item, so I’ll have to wait until next year to try it in cookies. Sigh…

  4. This is so spot on, Melissa! You so perfect described that moment when someone (a cashier, anyone) looks up somewhat stunned at first that a conversation is happening. I often have the feeling that when I engage while I’m out and about that i should do it more often. But of course I forget. This is a good reminder!

    • Isn’t it interesting when you break the normal routine like that? For example… people always greet each other with “hi, how are you?” and then never wait for the answer. I like to respond with “awake” or “happy” instead of the usual “fine” or “ok” or “good”. It usually gets folk to pause for a second or two …

  5. You are right. I got onto the elevator in the parking ramp today, said hello – and everyone was looking at a smart phone. Kind of bizarre and kind of sad.
    Keep posting!

    • I know! We are alone but together in the alone-ness. Very sad. Thank you for reading along, and maybe we can have an in-person conversation sometime?