L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

Eight Painless Tips

Christina Park via Forbes

Introverts tend to dread small talk. They worry that it will be boring, awkward, or that they’ll run out of things to say.

But in today’s world, small talk is difficult to avoid. Cocktail parties, networking events, and even the line for coffee at work may require a brief exchange of pleasantries.

Many introverts would be surprised to discover that small talk doesn’t have to be painful. By learning a few simple techniques, you can polish your conversational skills and make a positive impression.

Here are eight tips to master the art of small talk:

1.  Reduce anxiety.

Introverts may approach small talk with anxiety, ranging from slight apprehension to debilitating dread. One introvert told me that he hides in the bathroom or fiddles with his phone to avoid idle chitchat. To curb your anxiety, stay rational and positive. Tell yourself any of the following (the first four tips are adapted from Alan Garner’s excellent book, Conversationally Speaking: Tested New Ways to Increase Your Personal and Social Effectiveness):

2.  Be purposeful.

Thoughts tend to be self-fulfilling. If you approach small talk with the belief that it will be dull and pointless, it probably will. Instead of dwelling on negative thoughts (“I’m awful at this,” “I hate small talk,” or “when can I go home?”), remind yourself that small talk isn’t superficial. Small talk serves an important purpose – it helps build the foundation for authentic conversations and deeper relationships down the road. Think of small talk as the light appetizer before the main course, and approach it with renewed purpose.

3.  Channel your curiosity.

Introverts tend to be curious people. They love digging deep, delving into topics that interest them, and learning what makes people tick. Channel your natural curiosity into small talk. When you ask “how are you?” or “how was your weekend?”, approach the conversation with genuine interest. Carefully listen to the other person, and provide a thoughtful response. If you show true interest, you’ll invite further discussion and set a positive tone for future interactions.

 4.  Ask questions.

Introverts tend to feel uncomfortable in the spotlight. They are often reluctant to disclose too much about themselves, especially to new people. So how can you start conversations and keep them flowing? The answer is simple – ask questions. By allowing the other person to take center stage initially, you can build your comfort level and test the waters before sharing your own thoughts. If you feel uncomfortable or fatigued mid-conversation, ask more questions and subtly turn the attention away from yourself. (But do not be tempted to let the other person do all the talking! See tip #5.)

5.  Add juicy tidbits.

If you relentlessly pepper the other person with questions, it will feel like an interrogation. At some point, you must share a bit about yourself. Do not provide one-word, closed responses; these cut the conversation short. Instead, embellish your responses with juicy tidbits of information. By providing multi-faceted responses, you can provide “hooks” for the other person to continue the conversation.

6.  Deepen the conversation.

Simple questions tend to elicit a one-word answer. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, can spark longer and richer discussions. Start with simple questions. After all, you don’t want to scare the other person away. In Conversationally Speaking: Tested New Ways to Increase Your Personal and Social Effectiveness, Alan Garner suggests following up simple questions with open-ended ones. Open-ended questions can nudge the conversation into deeper, more authentic territory – where introverts tend to thrive. Here are a few examples:

7.  Recognize cues.

Introverts are often misunderstood. Other people may interpret the introvert’s reserved nature as snobbish, or they may find an introvert’s deep passion for a particular topic to be too intense or serious. As an introvert, you can search for cues and learn to respond appropriately. For example, if the other person seems taken aback by your reserved nature, be sure to smile and express genuine enthusiasm in the conversation. Or if the other person starts to get fidgety while you’re speaking at length on a subject, it’s probably time to switch to another topic or wrap up the conversation.

8.  Be kind to yourself.

Introverts are typically introspective souls who can concentrate for long periods of time. However, this gift can become a curse when introverts dwell on their own perceived faults and failures. If a particular endeavor didn’t go well, introverts may replay the episode in their minds and berate themselves for not doing things differently. If you botched up a conversation or wish you hadn’t said this or that, take a few minutes to reflect and focus on your “takeaway” lesson for next time. Then simply let it go. Everyone makes mistakes. To accomplish anything worthwhile, you must be willing to fail many times (and occasionally look silly) before achieving success.

Me – during all instances of small talk.

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