Do you dread running into a casual acquaintance at the supermarket? Do you skip out on after-hour work events? Do you pretend to be on your phone to avoid talking to people? Well, you are not alone! Roughly one third of Americans are considered introverts.
Introverts are often misunderstood. They may come off as anti-social, bored, distant, unenthusiastic, or rude. But the truth is that they are simply shy. For introverts, simple conversations about the weather or the weekend can be draining. These conversations feel like work. They cause stress, and for some, even anxiety.
Unfortunately for introverts, small talk is an unavoidable part of life. But there are ways to make social situations a bit more comfortable.
If you know you have a networking event or a party coming up, expect that you will have to make small talk and prepare for it. Think of a funny anecdote or catch up on the latest news. Spend some time on your own. Do something relaxing and try to clear your mind. Many introverts get so stressed over the idea of having to speak to strangers that they talk themselves into a panic before even arriving to the event. By increasing your alone time before the event, you will have more energy to interact with others.
Keep Yourself Busy
Want to feel like you are part of the group but don’t feel comfortable joining the conversation? Then keep yourself busy by taking on a task. Let’s say you are at an office potluck, you can participate by helping set up, be in charge of replenishing the chips, or serving food. By giving yourself a task, you are participating without pushing yourself too far out of your comfort zone.
If you feel overwhelmed at any moment, give yourself a break. Excuse yourself to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or get some air. Take a few minutes to relax, and return to the conversation. Remember, it is just a conversation. Ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen? A stranger doesn’t like you? There is a brief moment of awkward silence? Oh well. While it can feel like a lifetime, that conversation is a minor part of your day and you should not let it ruin your entire day.
Take the First Step
Sure, you could sit in a corner staring at your phone all night, but chances are that you still won’t feel comfortable being at the event, and others will think you are unfriendly. As hard as it may seem, sometimes being the one who starts the conversation can make it more enjoyable. Try to find someone else who seems shy or is not engaging in conversation and talk to them. You can even start the conversation by saying how uncomfortable small talk is. Finding common ground takes the work out of small talk and allows for real conversations to occur.
Find an Extrovert
There is probably at least one person at the event who you feel comfortable talking to, so stick with them, especially if they are an extrovert. They can help start conversations and introduce you to people. And because extroverts are outgoing, they are sure to fill any moment of silence.
Go Easy on Yourself
You can’t always prepare yourself for a social situation. Sometimes they just happen – you run into someone at a store, in the elevator, or on the train. Accept that small talk is an unavoidable part of life, and that a few moments of awkward chatter do not define who you are. It does not mean you are antisocial or a loner. It simply means you value real conversations with people you care about over superficial conversations with acquaintances, and that is fine. Give yourself a break. Do not let it stress you because chances are that person you awkwardly talked to in line at the grocery store will have forgotten all about it by the time they reach their car.