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How to make small talk easier and more effective

Smalltalk is something most introverts hate. They tend to prefer “more meaningful” (deeper) conversations. Maybe you feel uncomfortable even at the idea of joining in with smalltalk, but know that networking often means you have to! Here’s 8 tips to survive small talk hell, and why introverts don’t like it in the first place.
Why don’t introverts like smalltalk?

  • Introverts gain energy by being alone, they lose energy in company. Chatting about irrelevant ‘stuff’ doesn’t help you understand your conversation partner. Psychologist Laurie Helgoe says small talk creates a barrier between people. It’s superficial, polite level prevents openness, so people don’t learn about each other.
  • “Introverts are energized and excited by ideas. Simply talking about people, what they do and who they know, is noise for the introvert.” (Helgoe). Introverts seek deeper meaning, not superficiality, and get tired trying to find it.
  • Introverts tend to think things through in their heads (internal processing) before responding; that’s not being unfriendly or slow witted. However it can lead to the self-belief 'I'm not good at smalltalk'.

So, if smalltalk is meaningless, drains energy and doesn’t play to an introvert's strength, it’s unsurprising that introverts don’t like it!


8 ideas for introverts to improve their smalltalk skills

You can improve you smalltalk skills, if you need to. As our skill increases so does confidence.

Play to your strengths: Introverts are typically much better listeners than extroverts. Use your listening skills to frame the powerful question that a discussion needs to answer or summarise what’s been said. That's better than feeling you have to say something for the sake of it.

  1. Summarise: Your listening skills make you good at summarising, which adds real value to many conversations. A summary also gives you a great chance to steer the conversation elsewhere, like onto something more meaningful.
  2. Plan some starters. Starting conversations with people you don’t really know can be harder. Planning subjects you could start conversations on, which other people might contribute to (news items, soccer scores, something that’s doing the rounds on Facebook) can help.
  3. Open up…a bit. Introverts don’t “opening up” till they know somebody and feel comfortable. What can you “plan” to give away about yourself, that doesn’t feel too personal? If it’s something you like talking about, it’s even better. I’ll talk about Scuba diving, and that makes it easier for anybody else to engage me in conversation.
  4. Ask open questions. Some questions allow others to talk easily, some beg for a one-word answer. If your question can be answered in one word, it’s not an open question. That keeps the pressure on you to keep the conversation going.
  5. Talk, don’t interrogate. Don’t fire questions at the other person or give one-word answers. Add something of yourself into the conversation. “Yes, I had a good weekend”, can become “I had a great weekend, fitted in some diving where I saw….”. Moving conversations to something you like, makes “chatting” easier.
    You’re not antisocial. Realise your strengths and focus on them. Some introverts worry about how they’re perceived. You’re not unfriendly because you don’t get excited by small talk.
  6. Don’t worry. Worrying tends to make people more tense. Nearly half the rest of the population are introverts. Introverts can and do make great leaders/ managers/ salespeople etc (all things we’re led to believe are extrovert roles), you can also “do” smalltalk.

This post is adapted from an original on Introvert In Business

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