Small talk is hard. I’m introverted and often lost in thought, dreaming up my next book. As a writer with thousands of ideas vying for space in my head, I classify myself as an observer gaining inspiration from everywhere around me.
My characters move into my brain and different scenes are always playing themselves out in my mind’s eye while I frantically scrawl down notes on whatever happens to be near me. Ideas literally wake me up in the middle of the night and demand to be documented. If you’ve never read Big Magic, you should. It’s my bible and Liz Gilbert is my spirit animal (and helped me feel less crazy).
Introverts don’t hate people or being social. However, social interactions can take a lot out of us and require more effort than they do for our extroverted friends. I’m fiercely loyal to my tribe and enjoy meeting new people, but idle chatter doesn’t come naturally to me.
As such, I have prepared a list of tips, tricks and resources for my fellow introverts to leverage below!
Of course I have some recommended reading on the topic before we get into my personal list!
- Conversationally Speaking: Tested New Ways to Increase Your Personal and Social Effectiveness
- Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength
- Small Talk Hacks: The People and Communication Skills You Need to Talk to Anyone and Be Instantly Likeable
The Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk
Prepare in advance. I have a hard time coming up with small talk appropriate topics on the fly, so I’m a lot more comfortable when I have a list of material to draw from as required (I’m definitely a list person).
Read the room, but human interest stories are great conversation starters, especially when they’re about dogs (okay, fine, maybe that’s just me). If it’s a corporate work event, talk about a continuing education course, where you went to school or a Forbes article.
If it’s a personal event, discuss a renovation project, a recent vacation or your interesting hobbies (note: I repeat, read the room. You probably don’t want to break out your bug collection at a New Year’s Eve party).
Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. A typical introvert listens more than they speak. I’m a lot happier asking others open ended questions and encouraging them to tell me stories rather than sharing details about my personal life (I promise to change your name if you inspire a character in my books).
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 and stick to it. 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.
Avoid your hot button issues. It’s obvious not to talk to strangers about religion or politics. I also tend to avoid discussing current events because they are almost always turned into political debates. On top of the obvious, we all have personal “triggers” to avoid.
One example in my case is dog training when my facial expression always gives my thoughts away (read: oh, tell me more about how saying “sit” 1,000 times and negotiating with your dog in a baby voice is working for you and how it’s all the dog’s fault).
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. Small talk is 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 (crazy, I know). You never know where a conversation might take you (so stop imagining that you’re home on your couch with your dog…not that I’ve ever done that…).
People won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. Try not to fret over awkward silences, which usually aren’t as long or awkward as you think. Be warm, inviting and engaging because it’s your attitude and expectations that are going to set the tone (if you think 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 people do most of the heavy conversational lifting. If you happen to come across a fellow introvert, enjoy the silence and recharge for a while!
Be kind to 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!
Hiding only works for so long. Share your best small talk tips in the comments below!
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