People exhaustion and making small talk are two of the biggest challenges for introverts in the workplace according to a poll in a recent webinar I ran. One participant called it, ‘the dreaded small talk’. Introverts find it draining and often times, quite useless.
Small talk however, is the precursor to meaningful interactions and those interactions are not just important for career development but for wellbeing. Wellbeing theory identifies relationships and positive emotions as important contributors, and small talk is the introduction to both of those. Like all aspects of communication small talk is a skill that can be learned and as an introvert finding ways to use your strengths is your best strategy to authentically developing this skill.
Author Jennifer Kahnweiler, identifies 4 P’s that are of benefit to introverts and can be applied to developing the skill of small talk. Preparation, presence, push and practice are simple and effective steps an introvert can take.
Preparation is a natural strength of introverts. Use it in advance of social and work settings. Find out who you will be speaking with and identify topics that might be of mutual interest. Prepare yourself by recognising you might be feeling some anxiety and take some deep breaths. Pay attention to your mindset and identify any negative thought patterns to reframe them into curiosity. Every new experience is a learning opportunity and our thoughts influence how we feel. In a virtual event you can even keep a cheat sheet beside you with some ideas for comments or topics.
A quiet demeanour can make you feel less visible in a crowd. Develop presence by tapping into your skills of active listening and empathy. Show the other person you are present and engaged by mirroring emotions and asking insightful questions. Your preparation and research will support you here. Maya Angelou said, ‘people will forget what you said but they won’t forget how you made them feel’. In our case, people may forget we didn’t say much, but will remember that we authentically listened and cared about the other person. In an online event I like to show up early as it makes it easier to contribute at the beginning when numbers are smaller or attend events where you know there will be break out opportunities.
Push yourself to attend by creating accountability; offer to attend with someone else or to present feedback to your boss. Connect in advance with the event organiser so you feel more at stake if you don’t attend. Enjoy a reward after the event as a thank you to yourself for showing up. As purposeful individuals identify why you believe it is important to attend the event. When we understand our why it makes much more sense to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
It may take 10,000 hours to become an expert in something but you won’t need to come close to this figure to start to feel more comfortable making small talk. It may never be something you love to do but with practice you can develop a tolerance and certain comfort level. As a terrified public speaker who now delivers webinars and teaches classes I can attest to this. Start by attending events that are low risk such as interesting talks you find online, practice interjecting or like I try to do, speak first so it takes the pressure off you.
The pandemic has provided introverts with the perfect excuse to stay home, avoid office small talk, not speak to people in the street, and wear a mask to avoid conversation altogether. While health and safety mandates this, we shouldn’t let it prevent us from engaging with others and losing our skill. Small talk is a muscle that if we don’t stretch on a regular basis it can become stiff. Many introverts have told me they feel more comfortable communicating in an online setting and so use this as an opportunity to practice small talk.
Flipping our thinking from a focus on ourselves to what we bring to an event can also be an empowering technique. Showing up and engaging with others offers many gifts both to the organiser and other attendees. As an introvert you are an engaged listener with excellent observational skills and insight that often hears what is not being said. It is an act of altruism as you support others and can promote your own wellbeing in the process.
If you are interested in developing your skill in making small talk as an introvert both for in person and online communication contact me for one to one coaching or e-mail me for more information on upcoming workshops.