Small talk is neither emotionally nor intellectually stimulating, so it can feel like an inefficient use of an introvert’s limited social energy.
Sometimes small talk feels as ridiculous as this exchange between two characters on the TV show 30 Rock:
Tracy Jordan: “Yes, we’re having weather.”
Kenneth: “Much weather!”
Does anyone actually enjoy chatting at length about the weather? Unless you’re a meteorologist, probably not. More often than not, small talk becomes the go-to conversation when we’re at a loss for words. It fills awkward silences, eases tension during initial meetings, and helps steer clear of controversial topics.
But it gets old fast.
Why Introverts Dislike Small Talk
Now, if you’re an introvert, you might really dislike the small talk ritual. By definition, introverts are individuals who feel drained by socializing and recharge their energy by spending time alone. (Here’s the science behind why introverts love solitude.) Because small talk is neither emotionally nor intellectually stimulating, it can feel like an inefficient use of their limited social energy. If introverts are going to use up their energy, they want to spend it in a way that counts.
Also introverts tend to enjoy delving deep into topics and exploring ideas on a meaningful level. It’s more energizing to talk about things that feel important and relevant to them. Small talk, by its very nature, remains at a surface level.
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How Small Talk Creates a Barrier to True Connection
It’s not that introverts hate talking to people. As my friend Laurie Helgoe points out in her book, Introvert Power, “Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”
Small talk can create a barrier that prevents the kind of genuine, intimate connection that introverts crave. When two people get stuck in small-talk mode, only discussing “safe” and polite topics, they don’t learn anything new about each other, and as a result, the relationship doesn’t grow in a satisfying way. In general, introverts are interested in understanding people’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, which isn’t usually achieved through small talk.
Unless you transform small talk into big talk.
4 Hacks for Meaningful Conversation
The secret to not just surviving, but also enjoying small talk, lies in transforming it into a meaningful conversation. If you’re an introvert, meaningful conversation will give you a much-needed energy boost. When you’re immersed in a conversation that resonates with you, you might just end up chatting the night away! So, here are four conversation hacks for introverts.
1. Invite them to tell a story.
Encouraging the other person to share a story can be a powerful tool to move away from small talk and delve into more meaningful conversation.
To do this, steer clear of closed-ended questions, those that can be answered with a simple yes or no, or just a few words. Closed-ended questions like, “How are you?” or “Did you have a good day?” limit the depth of the response and can often end the conversation before it even starts.
Instead, ask open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “How was your day?,” try, “What was the most interesting part of your day?” or “What did you do today that made you feel accomplished?” Questions like these invite the other person to tell a story.
Here are more ideas from Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker, authors of What to Talk About:
- “What line of work are you in?”
- “How was your weekend?”
- “What’s up?”
- “How long have you been living here?”
- “How’d you end up in your line of work?”
- “What was the best part of your weekend?”
- “What are you looking forward to this week?”
- “What’s a strange detail about where you grew up?”
2. Ask why instead of what.
Here’s a twist on asking open-ended questions: Shift from merely asking about the facts, the what, to probing deeper into the why. This strategy, suggested by The Date Report, pushes the conversation beyond surface-level information and delves into the person’s motivations, preferences, and values.
For example, after asking, “What college did you go to?,” ask a follow-up question like, “Why did you choose that college?” The second question will reveal much more about the person. Their answer might shed light on their passions, their decision-making process, or even their personal history.
Similarly, if someone shares that they recently watched a particular movie, rather than just asking, “What was the movie about?,” you could ask, “Why did you pick that movie?” or “What about that movie appealed to you?” You might get some insight into their taste in cinema, their interests, or what kind of narratives or themes resonate with them.
In essence, asking why nudges the person to share more personal information, which can lead to a more meaningful conversation.
3. Share a few details and see what sticks.
This can be a hard one for us introverts, because we tend to dislike talking about ourselves. It places the spotlight directly on us, which might make us feel vulnerable and exposed. As a result, we may not open up for people unless we know them well. Unfortunately, this tendency can lead to a repetitive cycle of tedious small talk.
As I explain in my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, a good strategy to break out of this cycle is to sprinkle a few personal details into your conversations and observe what resonates with the other person. For example, when faced with routine questions like, “How’s it going?” or “How are you?,” instead of responding with the standard, “I’m fine, how are you?,” try to expand on your answer by sharing a bit about your day. You could say, “I’m doing great! I woke up early this morning to jog along my favorite trail. It’s really invigorated me!” Or, “I’m feeling tired because my two-year-old woke me up in the middle of the night, and we couldn’t fall back asleep.”
When you share details about yourself, notice how the other person reacts. Do they show genuine interest and continue the conversation with a follow-up question like, “That sounds great! Where’s your favorite trail?” Or do they give a disinterested nod? If the other person doesn’t seem interested, try revealing another detail about yourself until you hit on a topic that gets the two of you talking.
This strategy is like throwing a few conversational lines into the water and waiting to see what bites. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it can become a natural and effective way to transform small talk into meaningful conversation. Remember, it’s not just about finding common ground; it’s about revealing the unique layers of your personality and allowing others to connect with you on a deeper level.
And, if you’re an introvert, this approach allows you to control the depth of self-disclosure, making the interaction more enjoyable.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
4. Dare to be honest.
We often sacrifice expressing our true thoughts and feelings for the sake of politeness. But there’s something very authentic — and surprisingly charming — about being completely honest. In her book, The Irresistible Introvert, Michaela Chung encourages us to elevate conversations by voicing our honest feelings and thoughts, which can be surprisingly captivating. For instance, instead of nodding along and pretending to agree, try saying things like:
- “To be honest, I don’t go to parties very much. I feel pretty overwhelmed being here.”
- “I’m not a big talker, but I like listening.”
- “I don’t like camping. Like, at all.”
- “I’m really proud of that.”
- “This feels awkward.”
- “That hurt my feelings.”
- “No. I don’t want to go. I’d rather stay home and have some me time.”
Such candid admissions might seem daunting to share, but when done tactfully, it strengthens the bond between you and the other person. By sharing your preferences, feelings, and thoughts directly, you give the other person a chance to know you better. It also signals that you trust them enough to share your true feelings, which can make them feel more comfortable doing the same.
Remember, honesty isn’t about being blunt or rude; it’s about expressing your authentic self in a respectful manner. For introverts, these honest exchanges can make socializing more enjoyable and less draining, because they transform superficial small talk into meaningful, authentic conversation.
You might like:
- Introverts Don’t Hate People, They Hate Shallow Socializing
- 12 Things Introverts Absolutely Need to Be Happy
- Why Introverts Absolutely Loathe Talking on the Phone
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