Small Talk, Big Difference

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Today we look at a subject that is easy for some and brutally difficult for others. I’m talking about small talk. You know, that little dance we do to either pass time, please someone, or put them off so we can plan our escape.

Now I suspect some of you may consider tuning out because you don’t have a problem with small talk. You’re probably somewhere in the extrovert scale and you rather enjoy chit chat, but I ask that you give just five minutes to listen and understand a bit about our more reserved conversationalists, and learn how we can support them in spontaneous conversation.

Before we get into the practical actions and applications of small talk, let’s quickly examine why this is so important, given that we are literally talking about the seemingly insignificant topic of small talk.

Small talk is an important part of conversation and socialization. We don’t really think of it that way because we tend to consider it just a few moments of chatter to fill space or move on to more pressing business.

But without small talk, many people might have no verbal interactions all day long. I’m talking about shy or reticent introverts and socially phobic folks who typically do not take the opportunity to engage in casual watercooler conversation.

As humans, we thrive on social interaction and small talk is an easy way to move us in that direction. The problem is that not all people see small talk in the same way. Extroverts see it as a gateway to a conversation, while introverts may see it as a barrier to a deeper, more meaningful connection.

With this dichotomy of small talk, let’s explore some ways that both groups can help each other out when trying to engage in small talk or any conversation for that matter.

First, extroverts need to understand that not everyone enjoys the short, mundane routine of small talk pleasantries. In fact, introverts generally despise the drip, drip, drip of small talk. To them it’s not only mind-numbingly boring, but also mentally draining.

So what are we supposed to do to cater to our own desires and simultaneously support our more introverted friends?

Well, here are four conversation hacks that both groups can employ.

  1. Tell a Story: Avoid asking questions that can be answered with just one or two words. Instead of, “How are you?” try something more open-ended like, “What did you do today?” or “What was the most interesting thing that happened today?” Questions like these invite the other person to tell a short story.

    Here are some other ideas for changing up your line of questioning:

    Instead of saying:
    “What line of work are you in?”
    “How was your weekend?”
    “What’s up?”

    Try asking:
    “What’s your story?”
    “How did you get into your line of work?”
    “What are you looking forward to this week?”

  2. Follow Your What with Why: This little trick gets into a deeper story with your conversation partner. It helps build interest and meaning, which is a critical piece for introverts to stay engaged and keep up their mental energy. So next time you ask something like, “What college did you go to?”, follow up with, “Why did you choose that school?” Hopefully this will lead to an interesting story so both of you can learn more about each other.

  3. Share a Few Details: This can be hard for introverts because they tend to hold back from talking about themselves until they get to know someone better. Sharing too much too soon induces anxiety, exposure, and vulnerability.

    For introverts, the best way to keep comfortable in conversation is to prepare a few personal or professional details you are willing to share with others. Consider parts of your personality, your life, your work, or your family that feel comfortable sharing and then think of ways to sprinkle them into conversation.

    For extroverts, try not to overshare as it may make others feel awkward or uneasy. Just keep it light and positive. And when asking questions of introverts, keep to the topic they have courageously put forth and try not to dig too deep. Let them guide the depth of the conversation.

  4. Dare to be Honest: This one can be quite difficult for introverts. They often sacrifice expressing their true thoughts or feelings for the sake of politeness. But there is something very authentic, and surprisingly charming, about being completely honest.

    For introverts, you can quickly take conversations to a deeper level by saying something like:
    “To be honest, I don’t really like parties very much. I feel a bit overwhelmed being here.”
    “I’m not a big talker, but I like listening.”
    “I don’t like the beach. Like, at all.”
    “No, I don’t want to go. I’d rather stay home and have some me time.”

    For extroverts, acknowledge and validate these expressions of honesty. Let the other person know that you hear them and that it is completely natural to feel that way. Give them space and support their position, but don’t try to console or counsel in any way. They’re sharing thoughts and feelings, but they are not necessarily seeking consultation. Be present, be kind, and be encouraging.

So now that you have a few hacks to build more meaningful conversations out of small talk, how will you implement them over the next few days?

If you’re an introvert, how will you set yourself up for success by plotting out a few personal details you’re willing to share or asking inquisitive questions that help draw out a story from simple surface small talk?

And if you’re an extrovert, how will you do your best to support your less loquacious friend by being mindful and empathetic to their distaste for superficial socialization? Small talk can make a big difference. Do your part to engage with others in a more meaningful way and find ways to support those who typically don’t jump into casual conversation.

Your Mindful Moment:

Small talk can make a big difference. To build great relationships through small talk, remember to be bold, be honest, and be kind.

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