Q: How are you?
A: Good, and you? (aka, answering a question with a question)
Q: So, whattya know?
A: Sure you wanna go there? (all laugh)
Q: Been keepin’ busy? (total blue-collar thing, as if a man has to stay busy, or else…. something; I hate this one)
A: Busy as I wanna be, payin’ the bills… (etc, etc, the trick is to get boring with TMI right away, then they change the subject…)
Q: How’s Ron today?
A: I see him, I’ll ask him (all laugh)
I totally identify with the awkward nature of small talk. The only solution I ever found was, own the damn thing. Do it on my own terms, and recognize that the other party is only observing pleasantries, it’s nothing personal, no need to make any issue of it, etc.
The funny thing is, anyone who is a little too slick with the small talk is probably working an angle or thinks they are, and they’re the ones who stick out, not you, not me, not the average Joe or Jane just raised to be polite. It’s supposed to be awkward, just like most common ground is. We’re supposed to just jump through the hoop, and get it over with.
Projecting small talk into a personal crisis plays as visibly self-absorbed, and I daresay the tension one feels over it is not over getting it wrong, but over being caught making oneself the center of attention, by pretending to want not to be. Most everybody sees right through that as the tactic that it is, and wonders why one violated simple etiquette with it.
It’s trivial. Hence the name, “small talk.” I suggest you treat it as such.