How To Handle Small Talk As An Introvert

It’s not a secret that small talk is difficult for introverts. These dreadful conversations in the office’s kitchen, every time you take a 5-minute break, or the times you meet an acquaintance and you need to go through all the little boring details of the random events that he seems to be so excited about. What is the point in talking about the X person that offered you his advice on a good restaurant? Why are telling me about the impact this new shampoo had on your life and all the benefits that come from its ingredients? Isn’t there anything better we can discuss? Don’t you see the bigger themes that are at play currently with the world and how fast they grow to be our detriment? In the world of the introvert, small talk may see quite cumbersome that someone mostly has to participate in out of social obligation than actually enjoying the interaction per se.

The problem though is that small talk is the little glue that keeps people together and creates alliances. Its the main way we have to create a connection with someone instead of doing robotic transactions when we need something. If you haven’t mastered this skill you will most probably find it very hard to escalate in your job or apply any kind of impact in the people around you as without this ingredient people won’t be able to resonate with you. So how can someone that belongs in this category of people, change his mindset, and improve his relationships with others to a more interrelated one?

A few days ago I tried a particular exercise that I happened to got my hands on that went as follows. “Write down 10 blog ideas that come out of your life in the last week.”. A seemingly very simple prompt that should take just a few minutes to figure out. Maybe you traveled to a new place and you can write about how to best spend your time there for first-time visitors. Or maybe you decided to try yoga and you can write your impressions from the muscle strains you got. But what I realized, was that introverts don’t get to experience life like this. We don’t pay attention to these little events that happen randomly at us and we have a much higher admission point, for what can be considered eligible to be shared with others. Unless a comet fell right in our backyard or we found a big chest filled with golden coins inside our basement, chances are we are not gonna bother to communicate anything no matter how valuable the exchange material might be. All the while we seem rather content in listening to others telling us about that time 10 years ago that they saw this great movie and how sad it made them feel.

Exchanging Information Versus Vibing

So what is the difference here? Naturally, these manifestations may hide bigger differences at a deeper level that only comes out as subtle in our everyday lives. After all, people are excruciatingly good at mimicking behaviors in order to sustain social bonds. It’s part of what keeps the coherence inside a group and has been in use for centuries.

On the first level, introverts perceive conversations as information exchanges. They seek the point in the discussion that will elevate their understanding of the world and the view they have on things. Imagine for a moment two tech-geeks (as I may happen to be one as well), that have a conversation about the next level JavaScript library. They share their valuable insights on how to use it better and how to improve their programming skills, all the while an extrovert that might hear the conversation might question himself abut the point of such a technical discussion and why would they seem so excited about it. The same way an introvert would question the point of a discussion full of anecdotes and random exchanges.

But this tech discussion is the only pattern that constitutes a valuable trade for an introvert, worthy enough to spend time on. They get to learn new tricks that will explicitly help their everyday lives. They will receive views about how to do things that might help their career or whatever they might be working on. But as far as stories are concerned, what is the value in that really other than learning the value of patience.

Missing The Value Of A Story

Stories have been a valuable tool of communication between people since all along. We use it to convey that we share a common history, view, and understanding of the world. Two people that have been through similar situations that blast them out of the blue have more possibilities to realize that they belong to the same group and have similar viewpoints. They live under similar circumstances and thus have the same enemies and the same aspirations. Whatever happens to one of them might happen to the other and they can make it better if they join forces. Friendship can be viewed as nothing more than two people fighting a common cause together.

“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend” 
― Albert Camus

And what better way to convey these qualities to someone than sharing a personal story. It contains so much compacted information about you and your perceptions that would be impossible to convey through any other means.

A story can tell all about where you are coming from, your personal history, and ideas. It can convey the way you perceive the world and its unlimited components. How you do things and how you think about them and any other thing that you can think of that is conveyed unconsciously. If you were to invent a tool that would allow you to understand another person, you wouldn’t find anything better than stories.

“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” — Hannah Arendt

Stories allow you to answer the two most important questions that are present every time someone is considering to forge a bond with another person. “Can I trust him?” – “Can he help me in my cause?”. Whatever the answers to these questions might be for an individual, these two components define the quality and strength of a relationship.

Becoming Vulnerable Through Stories

There is another component that is looming around when sharing a story and is not particularly easy to spot. A story makes you vulnerable. It forces you to switch into a mode that you describe things that happen in your life in an objective way as if you are the receiver of things as they come your way. For the most part, this is not the way you would expect someone to communicate. You become an easy target to attack, allowing others to get a glimpse of your life and make use of it in any way they might judge appropriate. A risky endeavor that may not bring the results you expect. Who would like to share incidents of them being unperfect in their everyday life and may reveal mistakes and faults you may have made.

Yet this is the hurdle that someone needs to overcome in order to ally with other people. You need to expose yourself to them and allow them to expose themselves back to you in order to gain a better understanding of each other and a stronger bond.

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ― Criss Jami

For the most part, introverts haven’t taken the step of allowing themselves to be foolish in front of others or haven’t been taught how to achieve it. It takes someone to create a habit out of it and gain the trust that he will be safe even if he proceeds with it. This understanding sheds light on why it feels so awkward for an introvert to actually share these details with others. It’s like leaving aside the safety of technicalities and immersing into danger and risk that anything could take place while hoping for the best. It’s a much different perspective and way of doing things.

Connection and Likeability

So if someone was to point at the biggest mistake people make on their attempts to create bonds with other people, it would be quite evident to see what most people get wrong. They try to hide their faults. They always try to create a strong image of themselves that would convey to others how awesome they are and how smoothly they can handle hurdles.

But the point in creating a connection with someone is not to persuade him of how cool you are and how nice you look in that shiny new car of yours. Is to go 180 degrees the other way and become vulnerable. Allow them to see your world through your own eyes in a ‘no hold back’ way and get a glimpse of how your life is like and then they can relate your path to theirs and resonate with you. And if it happens for you to have some unique perspectives that allow them to see things differently and grow their perspective they are gonna appreciate that and love you for it. But not unless you are willing to open up yourself first. It takes this little transcendence in order to get to the other side.

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