How I Learned to Love Small Talk, Even as an Introvert
Introverts are notorious for detesting small talk. I used to be one of them.
I avoided small talk, and situations where I would need to partake in it.
I preferred to focus on important discussions about things that mattered to me: philosophy and metaphysics, culture, psychology, business, economics, etc.
In other words, heavy and fascinating topics where I could either learn something new, or teach something to someone else.
Then one day I had a realization: this annoying thing called “small talk” was actually a major way that people connect with each other.
By avoiding small talk and chitchat, I was actually missing out on connecting with a lot of people. Including people who I would have been able to enjoy those deeper conversations with.
I realized that small talk serves many useful purposes.
It reduces tension and awkwardness, allowing strangers to relax around each other.
It keeps the social energy flowing, avoiding stagnant energy that ends interactions.
It allows people to sense that others are “normal,” safe, mentally healthy, and socially well-adjusted.
And, instead of being an impediment to deeper connections, small talk actually facilitates deeper connections.
Once people are comfortable around each other and have connected on simple, superficial topics like the weather, sports, food, music, or vacations, they are that much closer to a more meaningful rapport.
I realized that people first open up to each other a little bit–by talking about simple, universal topics that are easy to process and share emotions around.
Then they progressively get into more unique and more personal matters.
But that initial comfort has to come first.
Going into deep topics too quickly will confuse a lot of people and throw them off balance.
Imagine if someone randomly came up to you at a party and asked, “Nice to meet you. So where do you see the global technology sector heading in the third quarter?”
Going too deep too fast will come across as tone-deaf, awkward, out-of-touch, or just very self-involved. It will not help you build connections with others.
As an introvert, I didn’t have to really enjoy small talk for small talk’s sake.
Discussing the finer points of yesterday’s rain storm, or whether a restaurant is actually on 5th avenue or 6th avenue, still does not stimulate any great passion inside of me.
Instead, all I had to do was appreciate the utility and function of small talk.
Small talk has become a very useful tool that helps me to build comfort quickly with strangers. Once comfort is established, we can then move into more substantive and interesting stuff.
It’s kind of like brushing your teeth: you don’t really love doing it, but you do it anyway because you just have to.
Once I understood the utility of small talk, I could use it strategically.
I just bit the bullet and started yapping about fluff stuff, as a way to break tension, create comfort, keep energy flowing in a conversation, and move things forward with someone.
Instead of waiting for others to do something or say something noteworthy, I just took the lead.
Once I got the hang of it, it became very easy too.
Small talk isn’t so bad after all.