The Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk – How to Turn Awkward Conversations into Meaningful Interactions
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “small talk”?
If you’re anything like me, or many introverts, your palms are probably getting a little clammy already. The word small talk conjures up scenes of endless trivial conversations about the weather, awkward first dates, shallow networking events and boring parties.
Why Small Talk Is Hard for Introverts
If small talk has got ya feeling all sorts of uncomfortable, I want to share some good news: you are far from alone. Typically, introverts find small talk more difficult. This is because being an introvert means you recharge your energy by being alone. It’s not that you don’t like being around other people, it’s just that social situations drain your internal battery. So for an introvert, small talk with strangers is a little like running your iPhone on full brightness with 1,000 apps open at once while on LTE. That battery is gonna die real quick and when it does everything gets about 10x more exhausting.
Small talk drains introverts because a majority of it tends to be surface level, without much too much depth. Introverts are introspective and like to explore ideas. With most small talk, we’re trained to only talk about news or weather without getting into how people really feel or think. This can make this light conversations feel trivial and even more draining.
Whether we like it or not, small talk is still essential for building new relationships, but it doesn’t have to be meaningless.
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Why Small Talk is Important
This year, I started working at a coffee shop. And not just any regular coffee shop, but one who’s motto is “Hugs, Handshakes and High Fives.” I distinctly remember being hugged quite a lot my first day and not really knowing how to process all of it. When it was slow, my co-workers would sit down and chat with customers, most of whom they knew by name. Meanwhile, I was hiding behind the espresso machine hoping no one would talk to me.
Pretty quickly, I realized that if I wanted to succeed there, (and in other social gatherings) I’d have to get ok with getting uncomfortable and *gulp* practicing my small talk.
I remember my boss put it in a way that really helped me understand why small talk can be meaningful. He said
If you want to build real relationships, you have to get to know people first. And you can get to know them, by talking to them, and that usually starts with small talk.
He was right. Thanks to brushing up on my small talk skills at work, I met my now, boyfriend. For a long time our conversations were short and silly – usually a joke about how none of his students died in class that day, or some remark about how much coffee he drank. But those turned into longer conversations and finally he asked me on a date.
Small Talk Doesn’t Have to Be Pointless
As an introvert, or just a curious human, seeking meaning in different interactions is crucial. So rather than looking at small talk as a superficial way to fill the silence, reframe the experience.
Whether you’re trying to start a new friendship, or simply make someone else’s morning more enjoyable, try to find purpose in each conversation.
How to Use Your Introvert Powers to Make Small Talk Easier
“Hey, how’s it going?
“(some meaningless comment about the weather)”
My friends, it does not need to be this way. The key to small talk, especially for introverts, is harnessing your powers of listening and observation. This will allow you to ask more insightful questions and hopefully drum up a conversation that’s actually engaging. One big game changer for me, was remembering that by focusing on the other person, I didn’t have to worry about always finding the perfect thing to say. Asking people the right questions and actively listening is a strength for introverts. You can use that skill to help whoever you’re talking to feel heard.
How to Start More Meaningful Conversations
Give someone a sincere compliment
I’ve found that most people take pride in their style. Often different pieces they wear, are an expression of themselves. If you can find something unique about what they’re wearing or carrying, let them know you appreciate it. I’ve found that jewelry usually has an extra layer of meaning. When I compliment people on jewelry they’re wearing, often it comes with a really interesting story that opens up the conversation.
If you’re in a context where that person is demonstrating a skill or passion of theirs even better! People love talking about their “thing” so if you can find a way to get to that, you’ll be sure to learn something new.
Ask Open Ended Questions
Instead of asking “
What’s up?” ask “What are you up to today?”
In our language “What’s up?” is almost like a non-question. When was the last time you asked it with any kind of response other than “not much.” Asking something more direct like “what are you up to?” actually gives the person the opportunity to share, if they want to. My rule of thumb is to ask two or three questions and if the person doesn’t want to answer any of them I back off. You can usually read their body language pretty quickly. If they want to talk, asking them what they’re up to or what they’re excited about, will give them the opportunity to start the conversation. You can usually find interesting follow up questions depending on their answer.
Instead of asking “
How was your weekend?” ask “What was a highlight of your weekend?”
“How was your weekend?” is a lot like “what’s up?” It’s one of those questions that you don’t even feel right about answering with anything more than a sentence. However, asking someone a highlight of their weekend forces them to think of something positive and usually expound upon it. You might find that you have something in common and boom you’re off to a good start.
My challenge to you is push yourself outside your comfort zone a little more each week. Maybe that means sitting with everyone at lunch when you’d normally eat alone. Or maybe it means striking up a conversation with someone the next time you’re waiting in a long line. I promise that each time it will get a little bit easier. Who knows, you might just meet your new best friend… or at least have an interesting conversation.
- Small talk – friend or foe?
- Do you have any tips for striking up a conversation that doesn’t suck?