Small talk is more than useless chatter. Often, it serves as a bridge to other, more meaningful topics — which introverts appreciate.
I know — as introverts, we don’t like small talk. We’d much rather have a deep, one-on-one conversation with someone and talk about things like our hopes and dreams, not surface-level topics like the weather or questions that only require one-word answers.
But, unfortunately, small talk is necessary at times, whether we like it or not. Here are some ways I’ve mastered small talk, even as an introvert.
7 Ways to Master Small Talk as an Introvert
1. Recognize that small talk is more than just trivial topics.
Believe it or not, small talk is more than useless chatter. If you are an introvert, you might be rolling your eyes at this, but it’s true. Small talk seems pointless because that isn’t how we introverts like to communicate. It isn’t deep or meaningful, and we don’t really learn much about a person or create lasting bonds. Most of the time, we forget what we even talked about… but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless.
It helps to think about any social relationship we have: You can’t just jump into a conversation by talking about heavy stuff. You need those small bits of communication to build camaraderie and trust.
So once we see that small talk is not (only) a shallow excuse for a conversation, that it isn’t meant to replace a deeper connection, but to build connections in our social lives, it helps us see it in a new way.
2. Think about the purpose, and end goal, of your conversation.
Before you start a conversation, decide what you want to get out of it. Do you want to make a good first impression? Are you trying to work on your social skills and approach more people? It doesn’t really matter what objective you choose, as long as it gives you the reason to be there.
Objectives give introverts a much-needed sense of structure. When you know what you are working toward, then you can plan out exactly how you will get there. Let’s just think of it like any other item on your bucket list — the goal is to simply cross it off.
3. Redirect your anxious thoughts.
It’s common for introverts to get anxious anytime that small talk is on the table — you worry about messing up and you are hyper-aware about every potentially dumb thing that you would do or say. You’re certain that everyone can immediately tell how much you hate being there. So how can you keep your small talk anxiety under control?
Well, the key is to learn where to direct those negative feelings. We often make the mistake of attributing our nerves to our environment. But the truth is, your anxiety doesn’t just come from anything on the outside — it comes from your own thoughts and feelings. So, basically, it is the interpretation of your environment that is making you anxious.
Luckily, however, with a bit of practice, you can learn to reliably separate your nerves from your environment. If you get anxious, you can step outside (or into a bathroom stall) and take a few deep breaths. Or you can practice some small talk openers at home (or in your car) in advance, since we introverts like to be prepared. You can “rehearse” lines such as, “What brings you to this event?” or “How do you know the host?” And, the more you say them in advance (to yourself in the mirror, for example), the more confident you’ll be when you actually say them aloud.
4. Keep the past in the past — one bad small talk experience doesn’t mean they’ll all be bad.
Many introverts have one or two bad experiences with small talk looming over their heads. As a result, whenever you are in a similar situation, you might think about how badly it went the last time. You are so worried about history repeating itself that you enter every conversation with a pre-conceived notion of how it’s going to go: Terribly.
But if you assume it will be uncomfortable or disappointing, well then, it probably will be. The success of any social interaction relies primarily on your attitude. It changes your speech and body language, which will drastically impact how other people react.
The beauty of small talk is that you have nearly infinite chances to reinvent yourself. There will always be new people to talk to and new conversations to start. Even if you make a first bad impression, you can always try again. So if you’re not looking forward to your next small talk session, try to think of the times it went right instead of wrong.
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5. Create a reward system — when you make it through a certain amount of small talk, treat yourself.
Sometimes you need a little push to get you through an evening of small talk. If you find yourself constantly eyeing the door, then come up with a reward system. As an introvert, you might be wishing you were sitting at home. Normally, you will be immersed in a book, a game, or a hobby. Instead, you are stuck at a party with complete strangers. You could just leave, but will that really solve the problem? If you bail without talking to at least one person, you will be frustrated with yourself for the rest of the night. So, what should you do?
Use the things that you do like to accomplish the things that you don’t. Tell yourself that you will spend the night doing your favorite activities — like binge-watching the latest Netflix series — if you speak to, let’s say, at least two people. You will feel way more motivated to take action because you are excited about what comes next — but this only works when you use “punishments.” You don’t get to watch that new Netflix show if you don’t accomplish your small talk goal. In fact, a further punishment can be no Netflix for a week.
6. Let go of any thoughts that people don’t want to talk to you.
I think another reason we introverts struggle with small talk is because we often feel like we are “bothering” someone by starting up a conversation. We hesitate to introduce ourselves because we’re worried about annoying or boring them, and the last thing we want to do is hold someone hostage when we talk to them.
This can easily cripple your confidence, the guilt of “wasting” their time consuming your thoughts. The conversation then ultimately suffers because you are convinced they’d rather be somewhere else.
However, that’s probably 99.9 percent false.
For example, let’s say you are at an event and you see someone standing alone in a corner of the room. What are they thinking about? How do you think they are feeling? Introverts seem to think they are the only nervous, awkward, or inexperienced-at-socializing people in the room. But if you were standing alone in the corner, would you feel confident? No! You’d probably feel anxious or out of place. You might also hope someone would make an effort to come over and start a conversation. You can be that person for them and it’ll be a win-win for you both.
7. Stop catastrophizing and thinking about the worst-case scenario.
Some introverts run away from small talk because they catastrophize every conversation before it even starts. They don’t just picture the worst-case scenario. Instead, in part because of our overthinking brains, they imagine a complete catastrophe! They create so much fear and anxiety that they couldn’t start a conversation even if they wanted to.
However, these exaggerated scenarios are unrealistic. You rarely realize how unlikely they are since you don’t stop to think about them logically — your emotions are controlling your thoughts and behavior. When you feel scared, your brain pictures the most horrific version of whatever you are doing. For example, your boss may call you into their office and you may assume the worst. Did you mess up a work project? Are you going to be fired? But then they end up telling you what a good job you’re doing. In fact, they’re even going to give you a raise…
So before you start imagining the worst worst-case scenario regarding small talk situations, you can think about if the worst happens… and then remind yourself that that’s rarely happened (if ever).