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Ask the Introvert: Small talk no small task for 'innies'

For introverts, coming up with a well-timed casual remark can feel as daunting as climbing a 14er in stilettos.
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Sharon Glassman, Ask the Introvert columnist

What’s an introvert? How does introversion effect us at work and play? In our friendships? In our search for meaning and happiness?

I’ll explore these and other timely questions about introvert life in this column, as an introvert entrepreneur, artist and journalist. 

Want to ask a question? Just use the email below.

P.S.: Even if you don’t think of yourself as introverted, you may find some helpful info here. Because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, we assume our differences divide us, only to find we share common ground.

Today’s introvertastic question: Why is small talk such a big pain for introverts? 

Lots of quiet folks stress out about the art of casual chatting. So let’s skip the introductory chitchat and dive right into the issue.

If you’re an innie who dreads chatting about life’s little things with strangers or folks you know, your fears are natural.

But that doesn’t mean introverts can or should avoid all small talk situations. Casual banter is the marshmallow center of social and business s’mores; the fluffy, yet vital stuff of life that can turn strangers into friends, fans, colleagues and allies.

Sounds awesome, right? It’s just that for introverts, coming up with a well-timed casual remark can feel as daunting as climbing a 14er in stilettos. We can’t think of something on topic to say. Or we say something at a weird moment. Or (cue: self-shame and blame) we say something we didn’t mean to say at all.

Yuck.

Why do introverts find small talk’s rules so confusing?

It has to do with, you guessed it: our brain.

 
  • Small talk has no set agenda. Introverts can’t map out the ideal steps using our favorite superpower: logical analysis.

  • Small talk may celebrate dopamine-reward activities like sports and weekend plans. Extroverts may find these pursuits delightful. But introverts find these same activities depleting and stressful, like an off-key, death metal kazoo band playing in our head. Talking about them feels stressful, too.

  • Introverts see small talk as an inefficient use of time in a world with so many big, nerdy questions to be explored. Deep thinking releases acetylcholine, which introvert brains find, yep, delightful.

OK, so small talk is not a natural thing for introverts to love, or do

But not speaking can make innies appear standoffish. Disinterested. And that’s not our intention. We like people. We just don’t know how to create common ground the way extroverts do.

How can an introvert learn to small talk? 

One conversation at a time. Here are three tips that might help:

 
  • Reduce your dopamine rush. Take a few breaths with mouth closed and tongue touching the roof of your mouth. This kind of breathing, found in many meditation practices, is said to stimulate the vagus nervous system, calming and soothing us.

  • Try a little active listening. Active listening often is used in couple’s counseling to help both parties feel seen, heard, understood and appreciated. To do it, you focus on what the other person is saying, repeat it back to them and remember what they said. Sounds like homework, right? How innie awesome is that. Now, instead of freaking about because you don’t know what to say to Bobbi from accounting, you hear them say that they're gonna stream the new superhero movie this weekend.

    Your turn. You echo their statement with interest, “Wow, did you just say you’re gonna stream that new superhero movie this weekend?”

    “Yeh,” Bobbi says. “Huge super hero film fan!” 

    Your next question flows from this new piece of intel. “What’s your favorite super hero movie?” Boom. You’re small talking. 

  • Embrace your failures and each success. Sure, Bogie and Bacall were great at small talk. But they also had a team of award-winning writers scripting their effortless chat. Recognize that your harshest critic in the small talk game is yourself. Do your best. And don’t forget to recharge as needed. Pause the Zoom or leave the room to watch a leaf blowing in the breeze. Some other quiet soul may even join you and say, “I notice you’re watching the leaves.” 

Actively observing: it’s such a lovely, innie thing.

Have a question about introvert life? Write to askin@smilesongs.com.

Sharon Glassman is a Longmont-based introvert lifestyle journalist and creator of Smile Songs gifts. The thoughts and opinions offered in this column are intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.

The Longmont Leader accepts contributions, photos, and op-eds for publication from community members, business leaders and public officials on local topics. Publication will be at the discretion of the editor and published opinions do not represent the views of The Longmont Leader or its staff. To submit a contribution, email info@longmontleader.com.



Sharon Glassman

About the Author: Sharon Glassman

Sharon Glassman is a Longmont-based introvert lifestyle journalist and creator of Smile Songs gifts.
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