Why Introverts Absolutely Loathe Small Talk (and Hacks for Meaningful Conversation)

introvert hate small talk

Small talk. Sometimes it feels as ridiculous as this exchange between Tracy Jordan and Kenneth on the TV series 30 Rock:

 

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Why Introverts Hate Small Talk

Does anyone really enjoy small talk? Probably not, but introverts especially loathe it. It’s not just mind-numbingly boring — like a slow-moving TV show on infinite rerun — but it’s also mentally draining. By definition, introverts are individuals who get easily worn out by socializing. Most of us have little desire to spend our limited “people” energy on gossip, our coworker’s weekend plans, or the weather.

And, as Dr. Laurie Helgoe points out in 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.”

That’s right. Rather than drawing people closer, small talk can actually build barriers between people.

How? Because small talk keeps the conversation on the surface. “Polite” and “nice,” it shuns any vulnerability, any honesty, and any chance of creating emotional intimacy. When two people get stuck in small talk mode, they don’t learn anything new about each other, and as a result, the relationship doesn’t grow in a satisfying way.

Small talk leaves zero room for meaningful interaction.

And this is absolute hell for introverts, whose brains are wired to dive deep. We crave peeking into another person’s inner world and sharing our own. We want to dissect a big idea, figure out what makes these things called “human beings” tick, learn something new, and yeah, talk about the meaning of life.

In other words, we want the good stuff.

Hacks for Meaningful Conversation

Unfortunately, small talk probably won’t be banished anytime soon. They key for introverts is to turn surface-level chitchat into more meaningful conversation. To help you do just that, I’ve compiled four hacks from experts.

1. Get the other person to tell a story.

Avoid asking questions that can be answered in just one or two words. Instead of, “How are you?” try something open-ended, like, “What did you do today?” or “What was the most interesting thing that happened today at work?” 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:

Instead of…

  • “What line of work are you in?”
  • “How was your weekend?”
  • “What’s up?”
  • “How long have you been living here?”

Try…

  • “What’s your story?”
  • “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 the strangest thing about where you grew up?”

2. Ask why instead of what.

This is a twist on asking open-ended questions. Instead of asking about the facts (“what”), ask “why,” suggests The Date Report. For example, after “What college did you go to?” follow up with, “Why did you choose that college?” Hopefully this results in an interesting conversation in which you learn more about what makes the other person tick.

3. Share details and see what sticks.

This can be hard for introverts, because we tend to dislike talking about ourselves. It puts all the attention on us, and we feel exposed and vulnerable. We usually don’t open up until we know someone well and feel comfortable around them. But inevitably, this means we get stuck in cycles of mind-numbing small talk.

As I explain in my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, try sharing a few details about yourself and see what sticks. If you work in an office or go to school, you probably get asked, “How’s it going?” or “How are you?” several times a day. Instead of giving the typical response (“I’m fine, how are you?”), expand on your answer. Give a few details about your day. You might say something like, “Good, I got up early this morning to jog on my favorite trail. Now I’m feeling great!”

When you share details about yourself, notice how the other person reacts. Do they keep the conversation going by asking a follow-up question (“That’s awesome! 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.

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 The Irresistible Introvert, Michaela Chung explains that you can quickly take conversations to a deeper level by 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.”

If done right, even one authentic admission quickly builds intimacy, because honesty draws people in and makes them let down their guard.

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Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. She also cohosts The Introvert, Dear Podcast and blogs for Psychology Today. For most of her life, Jenn felt weird, different, and out of place because of her quiet ways. She writes about introversion because she doesn’t want other introverts to feel the way she did.