“It’s not that there is no small talk…It’s that it comes not at the beginning of conversations but at the end…Sensitive people…’enjoy small talk only after they’ve gone deep’ says Strickland. ‘When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much as anyone else.” ― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Small talk has never been my forte. When bumping into a person I don’t know well, my mind often goes blank after the polite greeting of, “Hello, how are you?” On a good day, I remind myself to ask about my conversation partner’s interests and use one of those as a jumping point into more interesting territory. The problem arises when I meet a person who, like me, keeps his cards close to his chest and doesn’t enjoy divulging any information about himself to someone he just met for the first time. Talk about an introvert’s nightmare!
The one banal question I dislike most, which most often gets asked at the start of a conversation, is, “So, what do you do?” I often feel tempted to answer with, “I breathe, I eat, I feel… How about you?” It troubles me that immediately after we answer this question, those who listen to us inadvertently will form some type of judgment about our character, based on the other social workers / nurses / teachers / engineers, etc. they have known in the past. It’s not surprising that the reply is often, “My cousin is also a lawyer! In which firm do you work?” I get it, people try to make a connection based on remote links. While it might work for some to start a chat in this manner, I try to avoid such questions by trying to be the first to ask a question that might lead us down a different path.
Sometimes, the conversation flows naturally and does not feel like any work for me. This happened recently at a get-together at a yoga studio where I lead a weekly class. Surrounded by like-minded instructors with most of whom I had never had a ‘real’ conversation before that event, we chatted easily about books and exchanged recommendations. I felt I was in my comfort zone. For about 30 minutes, we only spoke about books. YES!
When I sit down to have tea with a close friend, our discussions tend to run deeper than the annoying ‘he said / she said’ talk I sometimes overhear between two people in a café or the grocery store. When I speak with someone, I want to know about her passions, about what makes her happy to wake up in the morning, what enriches her life with purpose, as well as what she wishes to improve.
I was brought up in a family of quiet introverts. Now, in my early thirties, I remain quiet and relatively private about my life, this blog notwithstanding (I choose carefully the topics about which I write). However, I am also interested in expanding my connections. I found myself wondering, the other day, about how one can take a conversation beyond small talk. What are the questions one could ask in order to delve deeper into meaningful conversation?
Here is my list:
- What books are currently on your nightstand? What book have read recently that you would recommend?
- What made you smile today?
- What has been on your mind lately?
- What is an interesting project on which you are currently working?
Do you have a question to contribute? Please help me to expand the list by leaving a comment below.
Do you know a fellow introvert who dislikes small talk? Please share this blog with him/her!