Most introverts hate small talk, preferring deeper “more meaningful” conversations. Some introverts feel uncomfortable at the very thought of joining in with small talk, others avoid it. Here’s 8 tips to survive small talk hell, and why introverts don’t like it in the first place.
How to survive small talk
The skill of small talk can be refined (although you’re probably already good at it, you just don’t like it). As our skill increases so does our confidence.
- Play to your strengths: Introverts are typically much better listeners than extroverts. Use your listening skills to frame the powerful question that a discussion needs to answer or summarise what’s been said. That’s better than feeling you have to say something for the sake of it.
- Ask open questions. Some questions allows others to talk easily, some beg for a one word answer. If it’s possible to answer your question in one word it’s closed and the pressure stays on you to keep the conversation going. An open question allows them to give a more expansive answer.
- It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Don’t simply fire questions at the other person or give one word answers to them. Add something of yourself into the conversation. “Yes, I had a good weekend”, can become “I had a great weekend, fitted in some diving where I saw….”. If you’re moving the conversation to something you like it becomes easier to “chat”.
- Give something of yourself away. Ok, introverts don’t like to open up until we know somebody well and feel comfortable. But, logically we can’t get there unless we give something away so the other person does too. What can you “plan” to give away, that doesn’t feel too personal? Even better if you like talking on the subject, so you can answer follow on questions. For me that’s back to Scuba diving, and that little hook just made it easier for anybody else to engage me in conversation.
- Summarise: Your listening skills make you good at summarising, which adds real value to many conversations and allows you to join in more easily. A summary also gives you a great chance to steer the conversation elsewhere, like onto something more meaningful
- Don’t consider yourself antisocial, or worry about it, realise your strengths and focus on them. Some introverts worry about how they’re perceived. You’re not unfriendly, judgmental, aloof, snobby or conceited because you don’t get excited by small talk. Any dislike or nervousness you may feel is about your beliefs, not the situation itself.
- Plan some starters. Starting conversations can be harder with people you’re not so close to and introverts tend to prefer deeper more meaningful conversations over “small talk”. However thinking about subjects you could start conversations on, which other people might contribute to (a bit of planning the night before, news items, soccer scores, something that’s doing the rounds on Facebook) can help.
- Don’t worry. Worrying about it tends to make people more tense making the situation worse. You, and nearly half the rest of the population are introverts. Introverts can and do make great leaders/ managers/ sales people etc (all things we’re led to believe are extrovert roles).
Why do introverts not like small talk?
- Introverts gain energy by being on their own and lose it in company (extroverts are the other way round). Exchanging pleasantries and chatting about irrelevant stuff to avoid silence doesn’t help you understand your conversation partner – or worse. Psychologist Laurie Helgoe says introverts hate small talk because it creates a barrier between people. By staying at a superficial, polite level it prevents any openness, so people don’t learn about each other.
- Helgoe again, “Introverts are energized and excited by ideas. Simply talking about people, what they do and who they know, is noise for the introvert.”The introvert is looking for meaning and will get tired trying to find it. Introverts look for deeper meaning, not superficiality.
- Introverts typically want think things through (internal processing) before responding, that’s not being unfriendly or slow witted (but some worry it is). It’s much better to give well thought through points, than quick reactions and misinformation.
So, it’s meaningless, helps drain our energy levels and doesn’t play to the strength of introverts – why would any logical person want to do it? However you can improve your smalltalk skills.
I would really appreciate three minutes of your time to understand your views of extroversion, introversion and how (if?) they affect performance in business.