Chitchat 101: A Guide for Introverts

Because chitchat is part of life, some tips for introverts.

Posted Jan 20, 2011

And small talk can be a gateway to friendship. You can't make friends if you don't talk to people, and jumping right into deep philosophical discussion can be off-putting. Going too deep too fast also may lead to a hasty burnout of any nascent connection--a flare of heat and then, well, um, OK...nice talkin' to you. The conversational equivalent of a one-night stand.

So, chitchat...let's think of ways to make it more pleasant for ourselves.

Find a reason to do it. Here's one: If you're with a group and fulfill your chitchat duties--even if you have to duck into the bathroom for solitude after each bout--people will be much less likely to pester you with "Are you having fun?" or "Are you OK?" They will see you fulfilling standard social obligations and be satisfied. Other reasons: To practice social skills, because you're shopping for new friends, because you need a job. All legitimate.

Don't sweat it. Chitchat isn't supposed to be fascinating, it's just a friendly connection. Don't judge yourself or your conversational partner for sounding inane. It doesn't matter. All you're doing is acknowledging another person's humanity. If deep conversation is a doctoral dissertation, chitchat is a blog post. Maybe even a tweet.

Don't fight it. Just drift with the flow, like a leaf in a stream. See where it takes you.

Listen for opportunities. Find the middle ground between deep conversation and trivial chitchat by tuning into opportunities to ask questions that might have interesting answers. What can this person tell you about the world or life that you don't know? Try to learn something. Don't interrogate, just listen for something more interesting than the weather and nudge the conversation in that direction.

Bail when you need to. Being receptive to chitchat does not mean you are obligated to put yourself at the mercy of motormouths. Ugh. Talking a blue streak is not polite, so you are under no obligation to be audience to a monologue. Be kind, of course, but don't worry about being rude if you have to come up with an excuse to escape before your head explodes.

Take a breath. Of course, a lot of us chatter when we feel nervous and awkward. If you find your mouth running away with you, pause, take a breath, and let silence settle. Let the other person take the lead, either drifting off or picking up the conversation.

Fake it. If all else fails, keep smiling and nodding, but retreat to the happy place inside your head.


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