If by now you don’t know i detest small talk, thank you for stopping by my blog and having anything at all to do with me for the very first time ever. The rest of you know what a thorn in my side it is. I highly prefer conversation of substance, even if I don’t know the person that well. Get right to it, and such.
I got to thinking the other day about another concept, though. Small(er) talk. This I could probably handle more often than small talk.
Based on my studies, (which I must rely upon on this issue, as I have almost no personal experience with it working this way) two things potentially occur with small talk:
- You have a temporary, pleasant conversation of several minutes with a stranger whom you will probably will never befriend or even see again. The reward is human contact and conversation for its own sake. (One of the most foreign concepts to my psyche I have ever encountered.)
- The small talk leads, by some mystery, to a greater interest in the other person, thus sparking the sort of substantive conversation i prefer, and the two people go on to become friends. (Very rare.)
In both cases, it’s not how I work.
But if a chat like that could be expected to be less than even the first of these choices, I may be into it slightly more often. What if, say, I could see someone wearing a shirt that I liked. What if I could ask them where they got it, and they told me, and that was the end of it all? What if I didn’t expect more commentary, the other party didn’t feel the social need to elaborate, and everyone gets something they want out of the deal?
Behold, the concept of small(er) talk.
I know, I know. This sort of thing happens all the time to many of you. That’s great. But they way I see it, it just happens to turn out that way any given time. I still think the social expectation is for small talk to last at least for the duration of both of you being in line at the market. It’s at least expected in our extroverted culture to the point of my putting in the effort to avoid talking with anyone, lest it become a conversation I don’t feel like having, or otherwise making others feel that they need to extend what they are saying in order to make it small talk.
Small(er) talk. If only there were a way to indicate that is what we were after. Take lines again, for example. What if it became a cultural norm that when in lines, all that is expected, or even all that is appropriate is small(er) talk? Or in elevators? Or anywhere? That way small talk could be saved for the cocktail parties that I and other INFJs despise so much, and yet we could give conceivably express the slightest bit of interest in a stranger when otherwise we would be avoiding eye contact at all costs.
As the ancient saying goes, dum spiro spero.
- Posted in: Introversion
I am so intrigued by the introvert’s views on small talk… I just found your blog recently and find your comments to be really interesting and perceptive. You explain the introvert’s perspective very well.
Personally, I tend to identify as either an ambivert or extravert (depending on the test). I tend to be about 70/30 extraverted on tests such as the MBTI. I’ve always loved talking to people (I actually got detention – one time only – in high school for talking). But I’m so interested to find out why most introverts say they like “deep talk” but not “small talk.”
This is my confusion: To me, I would say that pretty much ALL conversations are equally interesting, because they involve people’s opinions and thoughts. I am honestly curious about your weekend plans, or your views on gun control, or problems you’re having with a plumber. It’s all grist for my human-relationship mill. The only time I really hate small-talk is when you’re forced to participate in an awkward networking or company type event, where NO ONE wants to be there and you’re supposed to chat. That’s so fake, it’s hard!
But real conversations fascinate me…
Anyway, I’m still reading and learning about the anti-small-talk movement and trying to understand. Any more insights would be very welcome! In the meantime, I’ll check out your book and read your blog 🙂
Thank you for your comment again.
I understand your point about getting to know people by way of what is conventionally known as small talk. IN your examples, in fact, I could see myself discussing something such as gun control with someone I had not known for long, because that at least encourages thinking and discussion on a level beyond the mundane. I do better at such discussions in a relaxed atmosphere, (as opposed to trying to relate my views on an issue while making the rounds in a crowded lobby), but as for topics, that’s a decent example of “getting on” with substantial conversation. It comes down to how generally interested in hearing me out is the other party, and in my experience, when it comes to meeting new people, the answer is usually “little.”
I do in fact have more difficulty with the other things you mentioned, despite being authentically interested in them when you ask people. The plumber, the weather and such are 9 out of ten so easy to use as time killers, that I, and many introverts feel empty because of the tedium.
It is worse at networking events, which you yourself say you despise as well. But for an introvert like me, far more circumstances can feel that way than a literal networking venture.
Ty: Thabk you for your reply. That’s so interesting how you differentiate a discussion about, say, gun control or politics, from a discussion about getting new blinds or a plumber. To me, they’re kind of all the same!
I actually like “deeper” topics slightly more than more inane ones, BUT am a little wary of getting into them.
The problem with deeper topics in my e oerimge is that they tend to generate controversy, lack of agreement and hurt feelings. Or else, they’re about a topic that one person doesn’t know anything about! It’s one thing if you’re a lawyer and can complain about trial problems with another lawyer. But you can’t complain about them to a non lawyer, because they wouldn’t understand (or they’d think that you are obnoxious!).
It’s a fine line to walk between finding common ground, while not boring and/or alienating anyone!
Dear Ty: Since we “chatted” this summer about small talk, I’ve really become fascinated by how different people process social interactions so differently. I really appreciated all your insightful comments: They’re funny!
I still don’t really understand the enjoyment difference between talking to a co-worker or casual friend about “deep” topics (i.e., politics, literature) and “shallow” topics (i.e., Mary just had a baby, my in-laws are visiting, did you hear about the cold snap expected next week). They all sound pretty interesting to me…
I guess if the topic is TRULY banal and very brief (like, “Might rain.” “Looks like it.”) it would be boring to me (but then, it’s over so quickly, who really cares)? But I love hearing about why someone hates their mother in law, or what someone thought about a concert last night. It’s all interesting. Anyway, I enjoy your blog posts… Blog away!
And happy New Year 🙂
Thanks Karen, for your thoughts again. Lots of things have kept me away from the blog recently, but I should be getting back to a more regular routine again soon.
As to your topic, I suppose much has to do with the use of energy. For me, as an introvert, even pleasant socializing makes use of a great deal of energy: more so than for an extrovert. That being the case, it is like an investment; if I am going to lose energy by being with strangers, (which happens whether we talk or not) my natural preference, and that of many introverts, would be to spend the energy on something to which we can directly contribute, at least at first. There is nothing wrong per se with typical small talk topics, as they can be useful, sometimes unavoidable. But as Stranger A’s views on his car trouble or his mother in law are not topics about which I can contribute any interesting commentary, it’s a less pleasant drain of my limited energies.
Ty: Sorry for the late reply… I’ve been slacking on reading blogs lately. So busy with so many other things (mostly work – unfortunately).
Thank you again for your response and insight on this issue: I was a psychology major back in the day, and people’s inner thoughts and machinations just fascinate me… Blog on, blog power 🙂
Hello – How have you been? I like your new blog photo!
Been busy here in Virginia – new office at work and buying a house and having step-kids! I still like Googling introversion and extraversion and all the space in between. Hope you’re doing well.
Thanks Karen. I hope all of your new endeavors are going well for you. (I didn’t get your comment until this morning for some reason.) As far as the introversion/extroversion mysteries, it is no less a part of what I perceive and write about than it ever was. If I weren’t an author hoping to sell his fiction, I’d probably be talking about the topic even more often!