Most of my life, I have dreaded small talk.
I’ve often felt very judgmental towards it, seeing it as superficial and not understanding why people would want to engage in it.
I usually felt very anxious around it. I’d often feel lonely and empty-feeling during and afterwards. A bit lost.
I believe some of this has to do with my being a heavily-introverted person. Introverts, as it has become widely known as of late, often do not enjoy small talk.
But why this is true for many of us is largely misunderstood.
Here’s an excerpt from a well-written article by Lecia Bushak: Why Introverts Hate Small Talk: The Myths And Misconceptions About Our Quieter Companions.
Introverts Are Exhausted By Small Talk. People who are introverted tend to prefer “heavier” conversations pertaining to philosophy and ideas, rather than small talk. Indeed, introverts can get easily intimidated, bored, or exhausted by small talk. They would much rather be “real” with someone and talk about more weighty things.
For years, I thought I was shy. I was told I was shy as a child, and the way in which it was said/used signaled to me that being shy was not a good thing to be. I grew up hating that about me, even though I wasn’t even really sure what it actually referred to about me.
In my confusion, I put together the theory that I was “shy” meant that I was quiet + I was thoughtful and that these things = that I was defective in some way.
To this day, I bristle when people use the word shy in reference to their children as in: “Don’t be shy, say hello,” and “She/he is shy.” In the former example, the “shy” is usually said with an inherently negative-messenging tone directly to the child. In the latter, it is whispered about the child, usually in their presence, as if it is something to be ashamed of, or apologized for. Why do we do this to our children — label them with such far-reaching labels? (Don’t even get me started on that word!!!)
There is a difference between introversion and shyness. Being shy is about social anxiety. An introvert may not have social anxiety. They may just really not need or enjoy being in groups to socialize. As Bushak says in her article:
Introverts tend to turn inward when solving problems or observing the world around them. They process stimuli better internally, rather than reaching out and socializing with others. Where extroverts become energized from social interactions, introverts regain energy through alone time. After going to a party or spending time forcing themselves to network, introverts often feel drained from the stimulation and must go home to recharge.
They’re more likely, in general, to want to stay home with a good book and a cup of tea, rather than go out and experience the night through partying, loud music, and meeting new people. But just because they gain energy from being alone doesn’t mean they’re shy or socially anxious. Social anxiety and introversion are two different things. “The number-one misconception about introversion is that it’s about shyness,” Dembling told The Huffington Post. “The best distinction I’ve heard comes from a neuroscientist who studies shyness. He said, ‘Shyness is a behavior — it’s being fearful in a social situation. Whereas introversion is a motivation. It’s how much you want and need to be in those interactions.’”
I sometimes do experience shyness and social anxiety. There are parts of me that are very young and are not adept at socializing and so become very anxious around it. It makes total sense to me. When that happens, I tell them to go play and let me take charge of the situation. I take care of those parts because they need taking care of in those situations. That does not make me a shy or anxious person. That means I am a person experiencing shyness or anxiety.
Conversely, there are parts of me (both young and adult parts) who are totally adept at small talk, joke and story-telling and being gregarious, parts who love making people laugh and think.
I tend to be an introvert, so yes, I tend to prefer one-on-one conversation and that it be deep rather than chat about nothing at a party. I do feel drained after social events. I do need to refill my well with alone time.
And I like to meet new people, and if I am in the mood, I am a great listener and converser. If I am in the mood, I love parties. At one time in my life, I was even considered to be a “party animal.” That did not mean I was out-going.
Once I began to really see what was underneath the “shy” label that so affected my early self-perception, I began to explore my introversion and extroversion tendencies and find compassion and appreciation for both. None of them define me as a person. They are simply colors within me.
I no longer judge all small talk as superficial or something that is for people who are afraid to go deeper. Today, I am able to appreciate that sometimes “pleasantries” are a useful bridge or transition in social situations, and have a time and a place as well as the deeper, meatier conversations I prefer.
I do not want to have meaningless conversations that avoid intimacy or risk, certainly. But there are times when there is something in-between. Hence, the phrase “small talk.”
I used to read that to mean “nothing” or “inferior” talk.
Now I get that it can simply be a “brief amount”, an “easy amount”, an amount that does not weigh or cost much.
It’s actually quite a lovely thing and perfectly named. Small talk.
So whether you are an introvert, shy or someone like me and a mix of it all, here is a great article with some helpful ideas for navigating the tricky waters of small talk: Christina Park’s “An Introvert’s Guide To Small Talk: Eight Painless Tips.”
And for more reading, here’s another interesting piece on the subject: Cherie Burbach’s “I Hate Small Talk Why Introverts Can’t Deal With Making Small Talk”
Here’s to those of us who sometimes feel shy, sometimes feel introverted, sometimes feel like stealing the show. It is all a part of being human, and it makes conversations work. Imagine if we were all one way or the other! Either we’d all be listening in silence or we’d all be talking over each other. Thank goodness, there is a need for it all.