In a Facebook group for entrepreneurs, I noticed a thread where quite a few people were chiming in that they are introverts who “hate” small talk. Finally, one person suggested that they find a word other than “hate,” since that’s so negative. Here’s my response:
You can say you’re “not wired for small talk.” That’s literally true. Our natural blood pathway is going to areas of deep thinking, reflection, integrating information and memories, etc. So being in situations where we’re called upon to stop doing that and somehow “go shallow” in our thinking is really a strain!
They loved this re-frame, and had no idea there was a biological basis for this common introvert trait. Now this begs the question, How do we handle social situations where small talk is expected? I have some answers. . .
As introverts, we’re much more comfortable observing from the sidelines, tuned in to our inner world, where we’re very active in synthesizing our observations and listening to our intuition. This inner world is our “home base,” and being expected to perform small talk can feel excruciating.
Small talk gives us the heebie-jeebies because we’re being asked to do what seems meaningless to us. We’re asking our brain to divert its normal complicated blood pathway to areas of higher order thinking (which is deeply satisfying to us) and instead flow to areas associated with the senses and the outer world. This isn’t our natural way of thinking, so we feel tremendous resistance.
I used to feel that way, but now I enjoy small talk.
For me, It’s the doorway to deeper relationships. As a gatekeeper, it gives me an opportunity to “vet” people before I let them into my life. It serves to strengthen social bonds.
So how can you get comfortable with small talk?
If you know ahead of time you’re going to be in a situation where small talk is expected, here are some things you can do.
Before you go:
- Orient yourself to the outer world by activating your senses of seeing and hearing. Look around and really see what’s in the room. Listen to the sounds around you, tuning in to faraway sounds, too.
- Get online and read news headlines to prepare yourself with topics that might be of interest to others.
- Practice your small talk by catching up with a neighbor or other acquaintance you care about. Become aware of the pleasant “bonding” feelings you get when you do this. This is due to the “bonding” hormone oxytocin. You’ll start to see how small talk can serve to strengthen social bonds.
- Activate your introvert trait of “curiosity.” Research online some of the people you expect to see. What are you curious to know more about them? Bring that authentic curiosity with you to the event. (Knowing something about the people you’ll meet also serves to make you feel more comfortable.)
- Extend that curiosity outward to the people you meet. That means asking questions that get at deeper motivations, at what makes people tick. (Start shallow, i.e., small talk, and go deeper if you feel a connection with them.)
And remember, up to half the population is on the introverted side of the spectrum, so you are by no means the only introvert at the event! Show up and help your fellow introverts navigate the outer world of small talk!