Making idle conversation with people is a part of life, whether you enjoy small talk or not. If you're in line for the bathroom at a party, at a work event, or even in the elevator with that one neighbor you secretly can't stand, chances are, an opportunity arises where you have to chat about the weather, the news, or something equally trivial. But if you're an introvert, these types of conversations can make you sweat a little (or a lot). So how can introverts make small talk less painful? Is it a necessary evil they'll always have to endure, or is there really a way to make it all a little less cringeworthy?
Well, before I answer that question, the first thing you should do, if you're an introvert who visibly winces whenever an opportunity for small talk presents itself, is ask yourself why, exactly, these exchanges bother you so much. According to April Snow, MA, AMFT, a San Francisco-based therapist who specializes in working with introverts and other highly sensitive people, introverts typically prefer to make deep, long-lasting connections with people, meaning small talk can feel painful simply because it's, well, boring, and kind of superficial.
Having said that, though, just because something is boring and uninteresting to you, doesn't mean you can automatically avoid it forever. According to Lori Harder, a transformational speaker, women’s empowerment coach, and author of the upcoming book A Tribe Called Bliss, avoiding small talk at all costs could sometimes mean missing out on important things like promotions, relationships, or other opportunities that genuinely matter to you.
Look, it's not that your decision to avoid small talk is a "bad" thing. Sometimes, Harder tells Elite Daily, we keep ourselves focused inward for the sake of self-preservation. But rest assured, if you want to find a way to make small talk a little less painful, and more meaningful, these small practices can help you get there.
According to Harder, small talk will feel way less painful if you take the time to think of better, more thoughtful questions to ask the other person. Seriously, the conversation doesn't have to involve the same old questions and the same old responses about the weather, the news, and the like. Chances are, Harder tells Elite Daily, the other person will find it refreshing that you want to talk about something different.
For instance, instead of asking another person simply about how they're doing, Harder suggests asking questions like these: "Hey, what’s exciting in your life right now?" "What are you most grateful for?" "Is there anything that you are working on that’s new that you could use some help, or a listening ear for?”
Harder says "this will keep the conversation going," as well as help you learn more about the other person. "You may realize you have more in common than you thought, or learn something new from this person," she tells Elite Daily.
Come up with a “script" beforehand, Harder suggests — even if it's just a little list of questions or bullet points of things you might want to talk about.
Life and leadership coach Kate Arms has a similar suggestion, especially if you're headed to a networking event, or something work- or school-related: "Before an event, take the time to focus on why you are going and what you want to accomplish while you are there," she tells Elite Daily. "Try to find a goal that allows you to see the other people at the event as your allies in trying to achieve something bigger than you can do on your own."
"The most important part of making connections is to show up as your authentic self, even if it’s challenging at first," Harder tells Elite Daily.
If you’ve ever looked around a room and wondered why you don’t feel very connected with the people around you, or why you have so much trouble casually chatting with these people, Harder says there's a chance you're denying parts of who you are, and as a result, you're making sure those parts of you are never "invited to the party," so to speak. In other words, when you aren't being the real "you," the people around you can't actually see you. And that doesn't feel good for you, or for anyone else.
"They don’t know that you share the same struggles, experiences, inappropriate joke-telling, loathing of small talk, nerdy hobbies, dry sense of humor, or the dreams you have for your life," Harder explains.
Think about it: How many times have you kept your mouth shut instead of letting your freak flag fly, just because you were scared of showing who you really are, or of "coming off" a certain way? According to Harder, this might have something to do with past experiences in which you may have shared these parts of yourself, but received negative feedback.
"Perhaps you can recall a time when you let that goofy, funny, or wild side out, and someone made you feel embarrassed or foolish about it, so you cut that amazing little wild weirdo off from who you are," Harder tells Elite Daily. "Except, you loved that side of yourself, and wish you could feel that free again."
But it's those little things about your personality, she explains, that really make you, well, you. So take a deep breath, and remember that the parts that make you who you really are, are the ones that people will connect with the most.
Is there someone in your life with whom you're dying to break that superficial-small-talk barrier, so you can really get to know them on a deeper level? Harder suggests trying to connect with this person by asking to go to a movie you know you both want to see, or even getting more specific, like suggesting you share poems with a fellow writer.
"The reason we avoid this is because we are afraid of rejection," Harder tells Elite Daily. "But honestly, if you fear one of your friends is going to reject you for wanting a deeper relationship, do you really want them as a friend?"
I know this is probably easier said than done, but Harder has some pretty awesome insight that'll make this seemingly impossible feat way more doable: "As humans, we are programmed to care about what others think, and most little girls were raised to be people-pleasers, so not taking things personally is completely counterintuitive," the empowerment coach explains. "This is also why amazing women tend to give up their power and shrink, because in order to not take things personally, you must care less."
But the truth is, she says, when you care too much about what others think, you don't have much energy left to do anything else. It also leaves you feeling upset, stressed, worried, and maybe even paralyzed.
Reminding yourself that you are awesome exactly the way you are, Harder says, and that you have a lot of good stuff to share with the world.
"Find someone in the crowd who is also alone and start a conversation by asking open-ended questions," therapist April Snow tells Elite Daily, "meaning questions that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no response, but require more detailed explanations."
If you can find someone else who seems a little uncomfortable in the crowd, too, not only does it make you feel more at ease, you're doing someone else a favor by initiating a meaningful conversation.
"Before you arrive, or just before you enter [a room], take a deep breath, and stand like you feel confident, even if you don't," says life coach Kate Arms. Fake it 'til you make it, right?
Arms also makes an obvious, but often-forgotten point about navigating overwhelming social situations: "There's no need to mingle widely when at a big event," she tells Elite Daily. "Give yourself permission to only talk to a few people, to escape to the bathroom from time to time, and to take breaks."
Trust me, girl. You've got this.