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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 15, 08/28/08

Introvert Small Talk

Here's what I'm wondering about these days: is there an "introvert way" to do small talk?

My daughter, an introvert, thinks she learned how to do small talk from one of her best friends, an extreme extrovert. I have a hunch she's right. The two of them have spent countless hours together over the past twelve years and my daughter is good at it.

I don't think that happens automatically, though. I'm not good at it and I've spent countless hours in the company of extroverts myself, over many more years than twelve.

I don't hate small talk but I'm not drawn to it and I'm not good at it. The word that first comes to my mind about small talk is "boring". But I have a feeling that response is a combination of compensation for my sense of inadequacy, some simplistic assumptions about communication, and good old introvert arrogance.

I'm reading a book about small talk. It's full of tips and suggestions that make sense but aren't inspiring me. It's taking the edge off my simplistic assumptions and introvert arrogance, though :-). The author says that small talk clears the way for more intimate conversation and that it's a way to acknowledge a person as being "very real and there". I buy that and it makes me like the idea of small talk better.

But I'm wondering what it would take for me to like doing it.

It's a stereotype about introverts that we don't like small talk. That might even be what I call a "respectful generalization" about us.

We prefer the meaty conversation, what the small talk book calls "big talk". If you've been reading this newsletter for awhile, you've heard me say this in one way or another about many things: what can we do we've got these introvert brains!! They like the big talk.

But I'd like to think I can cultivate a fresh start with making small talk and I think it has to be "introvert" small talk.

Here's the recipe I'm coming up with, to try out: it starts with the assumption that small talk is actually important. It includes lots of smiling (something we inward-focused introverts can forget but we do know how :-).

Introverts are known to be good observers and good listeners it relies on these basic strengths. The volume is low, the pace isn't rushed.

And though introverts are often encouraged to come up with things to talk about ahead of time when they know they're going into small talk territory, my recipe leaves that out seems like too much work. Last but not least, though, full permission to take breaks into the solitude of the bathroom or the back porch.

But here's what's striking me most: maybe there isn't any real difference between small talk and big talk. Maybe what matters is whether we're "acknowledging each other as being very real and there" and what we talk about is secondary. That I could get behind.

End of food for thought on to some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Imagine yourself as a big fan of small talk and being really good at it.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Imagine yourself at a party, in a corner having a long, meaty conversation.

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