Introversion and the small-talk dilemma

Does the idea of having to engage in small talk at a party, family occasion or business function fill you with dread?

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Some time ago I read a post stating that Introverts avoid small talk because like the white bread in a sandwich, it’s just empty calories and no nutrients.  Now I love a good analogy and couldn’t resist continuing the theme.

You see, from my perspective, whilst there is some truth in the above assertion, especially if the bread is dry and stale, white bread also serves a purpose in a sandwich. In many ways it makes it more palatable, less messy and easier to manage.  So, it got me thinking – who wouldn’t want that when it comes to small-talk? 

We live in a world where the socially expected norm includes an ability to engage in small-talk.  We know it breaks the ice and often precedes a more in-depth conversation which, if it’s mutually interesting, can be really engaging. 

As I mentioned at the start though, I do accept that small-talk can be a challenge for Introverts, but in my experience, it’s a skill well worth developing and using authentically, so that we’re not just trying to copy extraverts.

The first thing I found, from talking to other Introverts, is that what strikes fear into our hearts is that small-talk means ‘I’m going to have to chat to people’.  Well yes, and we know that Introverts are not excited by chatter. But here’s the trick. A few well placed, genuinely open questions mean you probably only have to listen as other people are often happy to talk about themselves and/or their opinions. Now this means doing a bit of preparation beforehand.  Think about the people you’ll be mingling with; what do you know about them already? What business are they in? What are their interests? What topics are current in the news locally or nationally? Where were you last time you met? Practice a few conversation starter questions that will get these people talking about themselves, then just ramp up your listening.

Some encouraging nods and a ‘tell me more’ or two will ensure that the conversation flows naturally.  The real trick is not to keep worrying about your next question, just listen intently to what is being said so that you can repeat something they’ve said or ask a follow-on question.  This allows them to say a bit more on the subject. 

I’ve found that many Introverts are ‘listening ninjas’ so using these techniques will ensure you’re well on your way to cracking the small-talk skill. And, without having to say very much at all!     

In conclusion, don’t be afraid of the ‘white bread’ of small-talk: It serves a purpose by holding everything together and making it more palatable.  Just ensure yours is not dry and stale. 

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