• Zoë

How To Survive Small Talk

I know I'm not alone when I say that awkward small talk makes me want to curl up into the foetal position and wait for everything to blow over.

It's not that us introverts can't engage in small talk, it's that it's not something that interests us. It feels pointless, doesn't really add anything to our lives and feels more like a chore. We prefer stimulating conversations about the things we're interested in and subjects that go deeper than the weather.

Why we dislike small talk

Each introvert is as unique as the last, so it's very simplistic to think we are all exactly the same. However, we do have similar traits that connect us and the disdain for small talk is one of them. By definition, an introvert is someone whose energy gets drained during social interactions. All social situations, no matter how much we enjoy them, take a toll and we need time to recharge afterwards. So when we have to put even more effort into socialising with things like small talk, then this zaps our energy even faster! We'd much rather spend that precious energy on the conversations and activities that we enjoy.

Is silence better?

So if we don't enjoy small talk, our only other option is to sit/stand there in silence. I used to hate silences of any kind - even when I was with my closest friends. I thought it meant I was boring, but it really shows how comfortable you are around each other that you don't need to fill the silence with filler conversations. However, in situations with people I don't know very well or I'm meeting for the first time, I feel super awkward saying nothing at all - maybe it's because we live in an extroverted world where talking is so highly valued! Whether it's getting into a lift with a stranger or seeing someone I vaguely know, I feel compelled to say something. As much as I would love to send small talk to Room 101, it's actually quite essential for making others feel at ease, building relationships and getting to know people better. We can't just jump straight in with questions like: "So, tell me about your childhood."

Step One - Your Perception

Surviving small talk is all about how you perceive it. If you continue to have the belief that it's meaningless and boring, then that's all it will ever be. You won't know the opportunities it could lead to if you always hide away! What if small talk was just the gateway to more fun, interesting conversations and stronger relationships? You don't need to have the expectation of making a new best friend with every encounter but isn't it better to have positive relationships than ones that feel laborious and awkward?

Step Two - Shift Your Focus

When we think about how much we hate small talk, the focus is always on ourselves - how uncomfortable it makes us feel, how much we dread it etc. Instead shift your focus to the other person. How can you make them feel at ease? How can you make them feel comfortable? What can you find out about them? We assume that the other person dislikes small talk but for some people, especially those who may lack social confidence, small talk is like a comfort blanket. It involves simple questions that anyone can answer and requires very little thought.

Step Three - Stop Talking About The Weather

Unless you're talking to a meteorologist, you don't need to talk about the weather. It's not helping you see small talk as meaningful or productive! If the other person starts the conversation with a remark about all the rain there's been lately or how it's suddenly too hot, use this to move the conversation onto something more interesting.

So a stunted conversation like this:

"I can't believe this heatwave we're having!"

"I know. It's too hot for me."

Can become more interesting with a slight tweak, like this:

"I can't believe this heatwave we're having!"

"I know. I'm not keen on hot weather but it's nice to be able to do more outdoors. What are your plans to make the most of it?"

Step Four - Keep Things Open

If you want to get more from small talk than the usual one word answers, then try asking open ended questions. Avoid questions where the other person can only give a yes/no or a very specific answer that you will struggle to follow up from. All it takes is a slight tweak on the language you use.

Closed question: Are you looking forward to the weekend?

Open question: What are your plans for the weekend?

Closed question: Did you have a good journey?

Open question: What was your journey like?

Being more open also relates to your own answers too! If you give basic, closed answers you are giving the impression you don't want to talk- this might be true but if you're in a situation where it's unavoidable or will lead to that awkward silence, it is better for everyone if you give a little more. Giving more detail makes it's easier for them to either relate to what you're saying or ask an interesting follow-up question.

Even if they haven't asked a question or you feel like you're asking too many questions, share something you did recently. For example:

"I watched that new Louis Theroux documentary last night. It was really interesting!"

You can then continue to talk about your thoughts on the documentary, other documentaries you've enjoyed, or the types of programmes you like watching or dislike. It opens up opportunities for them to jump in and ask questions, give their thoughts or even questions for you to ask them.

Step Five - Listen

It's all well and good asking open questions, but if you don't actually listen to what they say, then you may as well not bother. Actively listening to their response will allow you to pick up on further things to talk about or questions you could ask. Don't worry about what to say next, this will stop you from paying attention to what they say! Listen for what seems important to the other person; are they repeating certain words, talking about a very specific topic, or person?

Step Six - Practise

Small talk will always feel difficult if you never practise it! Try to challenge yourself a little more each time so that it gets easier and you become more comfortable. Practising with people you know you'll never see again is a great place to start - it could be someone in the line at the supermarket or the barista at a coffee shop. See these opportunities as chances to test what works well for you and help you find your feet - what have you got to lose?

We cover topics like this in more detail in The Happy Introvert Club where you are encouraged to be your true self and supported to achieve your potential! To find out more about joining, click below.


Hi, I'm Zoë!

Proud introvert, life coach, cat mum & tea lover!

On my blog, you'll find my views and experiences on introvert life which I hope will help you understand yourself better, feel empowered and in love with who you are!

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