Tag Archives: small talk

Small talk and 5 other traits introverts must improve upon

breakroomWhen my colleagues are chatting away during lunch, I like to join their conversation which is usually about current affairs, television shows, or other topics extraverts seem to enjoy and master with ease.

I do my best to break into their banter, picking the right opportunity to voice my views. But at times choosing my words seems like work. I’m not unusual in this way–finding making small talk difficult–other introverts have expressed the same frustration.

Being comfortable making small talk is one trait I admire in extraverts. Other extravert traits I admire are:

Ability to promote themselves. Extraverts have the gift of gab, and we all know that verbal communications is more direct and timely than written communications. While I feel comfortable sending an e-mail to my manager about my accomplishments, extraverts would go directly to her office and talk about their accomplishments. This confidence they display I erroneously misconstrue for conceit.

Solution. Before approaching the manager to speak of their accomplishments, introverts should formulate what they’re going to say. It may be helpful to write down some talking points on their accomplishments before approaching the manager. They should also remember to smile.

Ease of networking. Most extraverts will tell you they have no problem entering a room full of people and striking up a conversation. Most introverts will tell you this takes effort and is often uncomfortable, and some introverts will tell you they fear networking, both for professional and job-search purposes. Therefore they don’t network and miss out on valuable opportunities.

Solution. Introverts should not network like extraverts. I tell my jobseekers that introverts can network; they just do it differently. Instead of working the room, they feel more comfortable in smaller groups and engaging in deeper conversation.

Boundless energy. Presenting in front of a group doesn’t scare me. By most accounts I’m quite good at it. However, after conducting three workshops a day, my brain feels like mash potatoes. Extraverts, on the other hand, can talk till the sun goes down. Where extraverts may run into problems is not taking time to ask questions and listen to their attendees. Introverts are said to be better listeners. Still, it’s nice to have the endurance to talk with people for eternity.

Solution. Introverts should take advantage of downtime to recharge their battery. I retreat to my cubicle where I can rest my mind and reflect on the next workshop to come. When colleagues approach me during my down time, I tell them I’m busy with important work…even if I’m not. Introverts must take any opportunity they have to re-charge their batteries so they can be ready to jump back into action.

Conflict management. Well-known psychologist and author, Marti Olsen LaneyPsy.D, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, asserts that introverts are not as strong at conflict resolution as extraverts are. She writes that introverts avoid conflict as much as possible, and I see her point.

Solution. In order to be good at conflict management, introverts must choose their battles and formulate their thoughts before jumping into the foray. When an answer to an accusation is called for, introverts should ask for time to think about their response. I feel this way when I’m asked to defend my actions.

Participating at meetings. I tell my MBTI workshop attendees that introverts have wonderful ideas but often let those ideas go unheard because they fail to speak up at meetings. The extraverts dominate the discussion because they feel uncomfortable when there is silence. Silence is not a problem for introverts.

Solutions. Arrive with talking points or write them as you’re listening to the other members of the group. When your ideas warrant being introduced, don’t wait passively for your turn; speak out regardless of etiquette. I feel strongly about being forceful, as evident by the time I jumped in front of one of my extraverted colleagues in order to express my thoughts. He took offense, but he’d already had his 500-word limit.

My admiration for extraverts makes me think about how I can improve on the aforementioned strengths they possess. I’ve witnessed them in my extraverted colleagues and friends; as I’ve also witnessed introverts weaknesses. With some practice, introverts can improve upon their weaknesses, and extraverts can tone it down.

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4 ways for introverts to engage in small talk at a networking event

Networking EventI’m not  fond of forced small talk. There, I said it. I particularly don’t look forward to entering a room full of strangers and talking about myself.

Like at a networking event, where everyone is delivering their commercial like automatons.

But I do small talk at networking events, and I’m pretty good at it most of the time.

Small talk is important in professional pursuits; it leads to deeper conversation. An excellent article, Hate Small Talk? One Approach Anyone Can Use, talks about how to approach people and help them engage; thus, helping them conduct small talk and, as a consequence, help you with your small talk.

Jeff Hadden is the author of this article. In it, he writes: “I dread the thought of walking up to people I don’t know and making small talk. Not because I don’t like people, but because in that situation I really don’t like me. I’m not outgoing, I’m not gregarious, not extroverted. I’m the ultimate wallflower.”

I love honest writing, especially when it illustrates how I feel. But here’s the rub: introverts have to improve their small talk abilities, regardless of their comfort level or desire. Small talk generates business and the job-search leads.

If, like me, small talk doesn’t come easy, this is what can you do about it.

1) As the author of the aforementioned suggests, approach someone who is struggling to engage. Here’s how it might go: “Hi. I’m Bob. What do you think of the event?”….”Yeah, it is crowded in here.” Where’re you from?”….”No kiddin’? I’m from Lowell, a small city north of Boston…” This can lead to your elevator pitch…or not.

2) I’m fond of asking questions. My kids think I’m weird, like I’m interrogating them; but it gives me some fodder to respond to. I tell my workshop attendees I’m the King of Asking Questions. “So, what brings you here?” “What do you think of the guest speaker?” “You’re from Tampa (noticing name tag). What’s the weather like down there at this time?” Just remember not to sound like you are interrogating your fellow networkers; allow them to ask you questions, as well.

3) Go prepared to an event by arranging a date or two. I’m going to an event on Tuesday, so I invited a guy I know to attend with me. I’ve got someone with whom to talk if nothing is happening, as well as someone to introduce. “You need help with your website? I’d like to introduce you to John. He’s a wiz at fixing websites.”  If the conversation takes off, great for John. But now I’m alone, unless my second date is there.

4) Don’t bother working the room. There’s no law that says you have to collect 10 business cards, most of which will go into the circular file cabinet when you get home. You might meet someone with whom you have a great deal in common, perhaps there are business or job-search benefits to explore. Great. I’m not trying to give you an out here, just a semblance of success.

If you were to ask me where small talk rates as one of my activities, I’d place it below watching golf. I much prefer, as do most introverts, having a few lengthy conversations with people–most likely somewhere quiet. I know it’s important, but I find it extremely unnatural.

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Introverts, come to peace with who you are

As an introvert I often admire–no envy–people who seem totally relaxed with small talk and “working the room.” That’s not me, however.

I know the importance of small talk and mingling, and I do my best to oblige the members of a party or networking event. But I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not all that great when it comes to this small talk stuff.

That being said, I don’t want you to pity people like me. Where we lack the gift of gab, we excel in thoughtful rhetoric. Could you say we’re deep? You could, but that’s really missing the point. We enjoy conversation as much as the next person, just not at a supersonic rate.

In other words, we are who we are. Introverts are people who could care less about mastering small talk; we’re more inclined to speak at length with someone…maybe the whole night. We engage, listen, engage, listen, etc. An article called The Problem with Networking illustrates the often futility of working the room, yet the benefits of honing in on one or two people who will later prove to be useful connections. I quote the authors of the article, Stephen and Sheree Van Vreede:

“….My point is that I have watched job seekers work a room, build large social media communities, and network, network, network like the best of them, all with very little result. Many of these people are extroverts, love mingling, and are the life of most parties, but that’s where it ends….At the same time, I have seen other job seekers, introverted techies with small communities who like to sit in the corner at every party, hone in on the top handful of contacts and turn almost every one into a possible job lead.”

Don’t take this as an invitation to talk at us and expect us to listen without wanting to express our thoughts; we have thoughts, you know. We offer the courtesy of hearing you and then building on that conversation. We like to ask questions to generate conversation. We also like to be asked questions and complete answering your questions. Allowing us the time to process shows you’re truly interested in what we have to say.

It is said that at an event we enjoy developing a relationship with people with whom we feel connected. If we are talking with one person the whole time, we’re not bummed out. We don’t consider this a loss. On the contrary, we feel satisfied. Do you think this weird? We’re not, like, into collecting 15 business cards, most of which we’ll deposit in the circular file cabinet. We want real connections.

That’s part of connecting with fewer people–it’s easier for us to keep track of them. I’ve been at networking events where I’ve met 10 people or so, but only two or three were memorable. These were the ones I followed up with, the people with whom I developed a relationship. As they say, less can be better.

If you’re an extravert and thinking, “This guy’s a freak. This guy’s a hermit,” that’s fine. Think what you want. This is who I am, not who I’m not. There ain’t much I can do about it, not if I want to feel comfortable and fulfilled in my networking endeavors. And, no, I’m not here to offer you introverts hollow advice on how to be more like extraverts….I’ve come to peace with who I am.