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
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"
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
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
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