The Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk

In case you didn’t pick up on it, I am incredibly introverted. The thought of making small talk with strangers or folks that I don’t know very well fills me with dread. Small talk is an art and I’ve never been particularly interested in art. However, given the nature of my work (read: office culture), I am unfortunately in the situation of having to come up with things to say to random people all.the.time. Since I am working at a new job, the expectation that I will be friendly and bubbly to everyone all day is elevated.

I am able to play the role, but as my fellow introverts can appreciate, it is completely exhausting. I have a quota of energy that I have to dedicate to people each day and depleting that precious resource on meaningless, superficial chats about the weather seems very counterproductive. To clarify, I don’t feel this way because I hate people. It’s because I hate forced idle chatter, which has never come naturally to me. I like to think about my responses, which means that the fast paced tennis ball match of small talk makes me uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, I have not found a way to eliminate small talk from my life, but I have compiled a list of my best tips to make small talk (somewhat) less painful and cringe-worthy. I also have a list of helpful resources for my small talk challenged pals to refer to.

Resources

introvert small talkHiding only works for so long. Share your best small talk tips in the comments below!

The Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk

Prepare in advance. I come up with a list of meaningless drivel in advance of when I think that I will need it. I have a hard time coming up with small talk appropriate topics on the fly, so I am a lot more comfortable with having a list of material to draw from as required (remember, I’m a list person).

Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. A typical introvert listens more than they speak and that is very true for me. I’m a lot happier asking others open ended questions and encouraging them to tell me stories than actually having to share anything about my personal life. Like my work-life balance, I guard my personal life fiercely and I don’t want strangers to know anything about it (a bit of an oxymoron considering that I have a public blog, but remember – I’m anonymous to most people! Somehow, it makes sense to me).

However, if all you do is ask questions, then people will begin to feel interrogated. Think about what you’re comfortable sharing in advance of a known small talk heavy event (such as going to the office each day, attending a networking event, or being dragged to a cocktail party) and stick to it. You can still keep things high level and generic while letting people feel like they are getting to know you a bit. If you think about what you are willing to disclose, it’s much easier to slip your pre-approved facts about yourself into the conversation.

small talk for introvertsAvoid your hot button issues. It is obvious not to talk to strangers about religion or politics. In fact, there aren’t many friends who I can talk to about these issues either (note: if you’re curious, I am spiritual but not religions and I’m also uber-conservative). I tend to avoid current events discussions as a general rule because they are almost always turned into political debates. I have a hard time keeping quiet when I feel someone is saying something ridiculous, so it’s not a good mix for me. On top of the obvious, I think we all have personal “triggers” to avoid. In my case, I can’t talk to the average person about animal rights or dog training because my facial expressions always give my thoughts away.

Don’t worry about smooth transitions. It’s small talk, not an essay. If a topic isn’t working for you, change it. You can absolutely go from talking about the weather, to your next vacation, to your career. I see small talk as a high level, repetitive highlight reel that can be adapted to most situations and people. Remember, you didn’t start off knowing any of your friends, so at one point you made small talk with them, too. You never know where a conversation might take you (so stop imagining that you are home on your couch with your dog…not that I’ve ever done that…).

small talkPeople won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember how you make them feel. Try not to fret over awkward silences, which usually aren’t as long as you think they are. Be warm, inviting, and engaging because it’s your attitude and expectations that are going to set the tone (if you think that all of your conversations are going to suck, then they will). Most people love to talk about themselves, especially to a captive audience, so you can throw in tidbits about yourself while letting the other person do most of the heavy conversational lifting. If you come across a fellow introvert, at least you can sit in silence and recharge for a while!

Be easy on yourself. If you’re an introvert, chances are you have messed up a personal interaction once or a hundred times. Don’t beat yourself up over it or replay it over and over again in your head. Take it as a lesson learned and use the experience, no matter how awful, as ammo to improve for next time. I know it’s not easy to let go, but small talk isn’t easy either so try not to sweat it. Practice will help you get better at it – I swear!

how to make small talkDisclosure: if you buy any of these products from me, or do any of your amazon.com shopping through my store, my sweet boxer, B, will get some treat money. He thanks you in advance for supporting his cookie addiction and I thank you for supporting my blog.

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52 thoughts on “The Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk

  1. A lot of helpful interesting points, smooth transitions is my downfall! Some people seem to be able to smoothly talk about one topic to another, not only are my transitions often awkward, I feel like I have to talk about the topic to death. Other people just chime in with their new thought and I’m like how, but I’ve realized they just go with it, instead of thinking about it forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, I am in awe of people who can do small talk well and make people feel at ease. I have one friend like this and she will make anyone feel as though they have known her for ages every time she speaks to them. Not so with me! But I try πŸ™‚

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  2. I actually like talking to people and don’t mind small talk but there are many times during the day (or even during a conversation) when it seems awkward. I never know if the other person thinks it’s awkward or if it’s just me so I just pretend like it’s normal and no big deal. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the twist of humor you have included! You have some very good points in this post. I enjoy talking with people….once I find a common connection. Before then it can be a painful and awkward thing. I really liked the point that people won’t remember what you say but how you make them feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to read my post. I have a pretty dry and sarcastic sense of humor, so some people don’t get when I’m trying to be funny – I’m glad that you did! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your point of how you make someone feel is very important is well stated. John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist Church spoke about this. People forget the words. They remember the feeling. The remember your joy. As a fellow introvert, your advice is spot on and was good to read. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! When I meet new people, I always remember if I felt at ease, awkward, or any other myriad of emotions. I don’t always remember the entire conversation, but I know if I want to have another one with them…or not!

      Thank you for reading πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My impression is you might be concerned about what people think about you, your ideas and the way you express yourself. This is understandable in a working environment because these people will likely be part of your life for some time. Here’s the problem; you are NOT like most people. Your focus and attention to details just may intimidate people. Ironically, these two STRENGTHS often cause the possessor of these skills to withdraw (a quality of an introvert) to avoid potential conflict. This leads to a growing sense of stress and discomfort when around people that share different values and interests. How to overcome these feelings?
    1. Stop worrying what people think because you can’t change their thoughts. You can, however, use your intelligence to navigate a conversation in a more neutral direction to minimize defensive reactions from the working colleague.
    2. Where it doesn’t cause you personal conflict, identify points of strength the colleague possesses (skills, behaviors, attitudes, etc…) This reduces some FEAR and trepidation between people that don’t really know each other well.
    3. Ask questions involving different subjects. They can range from, “how was your weekend?” to “did you hear about…” (you can fill this in with, “the polluted water in Michigan” or “the flooding in West Virginia” or “the couple that celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary?” You will notice all these topics draw emotional responses that help people engage in further dialogue.

    I have become so used to people having preconceived ideas about me, it has become my responsibility to ease the tension if I want to develop friendships or simply maintain acquaintances. Being different (not better, not worse than others) places the onus on me to diffuse potential situations BEFORE they develop. I believe I may know your skill at “measuring people” which is a great attribute to help reduce volatility even if the subject matter is “small talk.” You are success driven. Make this “small talk situation” a challenge for you to conquer. It will make it more fun for you while helping develop new skills for the future.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s interesting because I do care about what people at work think, but only so much as it could impact my job. I know that I need to “fit in” and I am very different than most people my age. I don’t have the typical small talk topics to rely on (I find TV and restaurants to be really common conversations and I don’t do either!), so I struggle to find something else to relate to people about at a high level.

      I am super comfortable with myself, what I’ve accomplished, and what I stand for. If people in general don’t like me, I’m not really fussed about it because I like me, I have a solid group of friends, and I love my family more than anything. If a colleague doesn’t like me and it will impact my day-to-day work life, then I care because I’m trying my best to eliminate stress in my life, not so much that I will feel bad about myself (they don’t have the power to do that).

      As an introvert, I struggle with a lot of social niceties that seem to come really easily to other people. I’m an observer more often than not, so I often have to push out of my comfort zone and get involved even when I don’t want to. I’ve often said that I wish I could just work from home and write so that I didn’t have to deal with all the meaningless drivel!

      You should have written this post instead of me because your advice is much better than mine. I am going to keep it in mind, as usual πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can relate to your sentiments more than you realize. Once again, however, changing the mindset is important. Social engagement is an important part of healthy living. Learning how to enjoy and make it meaningful is an attribute some naturally experience and others need to learn to attain. I was one that needed to LEARN TO ATTAIN. I would have preferred avoiding the situation, because I always felt uncomfortable. I realized, this was part of my IMBALANCE. Just as you’ve discovered a new approach to HEALTH, so too, you can discover a MEANINGFUL way to interact with workers and other “strangers.” Creating an open mind for each and every encounter is a starting point. Developing the skill to direct conversations can help all parties enjoy the experience. As you become more comfortable engaging with people, the need to direct the dialogue fades. The more we practice situations in life, the better we become at overcoming constraints.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. A great post that I can truly understand. Small talk terrifies me, but I have found a way to that small talk is not miserable anymore. The worst thing an introvert can do is to think that their type of conversation is a bad thing because it’s not; it is just not the common language used. Introspective conversations are good as well as light ones. Something I have noticed also is that the more I have lived the easier it is to find things to say to people and the more stories I have to share. It comes with time, and with being content with yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. I still don’t enjoy small talk and I will probably never be “good” at it, but I can get through it and not want to fall into a hole in the ground. That’s progress!

      It’s true that as you get older, you have more to say and more potential topics to relate to people on. I try my best to find common ground ASAP!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I dont think ive met an introvert that liked small talk… even if you are an extrovert i wouldnt put anyone through it, i hate it myself ! Introverts are special kinds of people and i love us.

    I had a site change, when you get a moment check it out, its all my beloved randomness with more to come http://lifeseverydayrandomness.com/

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post! As a fellow introvert, I too struggle with small talk. I find it easier to do in work settings (where I meet new people all the time and have to engage in small talk). Outside of work, it’s not as easy! That said, it’s gotten easier since I’ve forced myself into small talk situations to get better and prescribe to a lot of methods you mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel the same way about public speaking. I used to hate it (okay, I still hate it), but with practice, I have gotten comfortable doing it. I admit that it is easier at work when I am being paid for it, LOL.

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  9. I’ve known for the longest time that I’m an introvert but only recently did I realize that I don’t like small talk, and that is probably the reason why many people think I’m a snob. I wish I was better at it, so thanks for the advice!

    Liked by 1 person

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