Reframing Small Talk

– by Wes Colton, Introvert Unbound

small-talkOne of the biggest introvert pet peeves is “small talk.” That’s usually because deep-delvers such as ourselves don’t want to waste our precious social energy on petty topics like weather or sports scores, but instead connect on issues that matter to us.

This quest for meaning is one of introverts’ most admirable traits. Unfortunately, with most people, it’s not always possible to get into such weighty matters right off the bat. For example, it comes across as a little weird to introduce yourself for the first time to a stranger and then immediately ask, “So, do you think there’s such a thing as pure good and evil?”

When people get together with strangers, they’re sussing one another out. So it’s understandable that a lot of folks are wary about baring their souls to people they don’t know the first thing about. And that’s really what small talk is about.

The reason small talk seems so superficial is because it is. The content of the conversation is merely the window dressing for the subtext behind the words: body language, facial expressions, vocal tonality, etc. These cues give us a lot of information about whether you’re talking to someone you can be comfortable around, who you can trust, who you might find interesting or attractive.

The term has gotten such a bad name that it might be helpful for you to think of it as “vibing,” testing one another’s energies to see if they mesh, or create an intriguing tension.

Once you accept the inevitability of some form of introductory conversation before debating the pros and cons of capitalism, you can learn to choose topics that might be light, but you still find stimulating. For instance, a movie you just watched, a book you finished, an animal you recently saw, or a restaurant you visited.

You don’t even need to worry about transitioning smoothly into these topics, just go right into, “Nice to meet you. Hey, did you see this week’s episode of The Walking Dead?” After a little bit of back and forth to get acquainted, you can venture into whether or not the show accurately depicts post-apocalyptic gender roles.

The reason I believe small talk is—contrary to popular belief—a genuine and useful component of social interactions is that it’s completely natural. Think about when wolves or dogs come together for the first time. They’ll sniff one another (usually genitals and rear end) to get a sense of the other creature to find out if they’re “one of them,” or to learn where they’ve been, so they can decide whether this is someone they want to spend time with, someone they want to avoid, or someone to attack.

In other words, small talk is just our species’ way of sniffing one another’s butts. So maybe thinking about that will help you engage in conversation the next time you meet someone. Just be sure not to sniff their ass (unless they ask and you’re into that sort of thing).

Wes Colton is an extreme introvert and founder/CEO of Introvert Unbound. Contact him at 

2 thoughts on “Reframing Small Talk

  1. Small talk makes me so uncomfortable especially with people I barely know. I just think that the person that I’m talking to really isn’t getting a good idea of who I am because I’m not really saying how I really feel. “Oh hi, how was your day?” “My day was going fine” when I actually had a rather sucky day. Or weather talks like we wish away the summer when it too hot and wish away the winter when it too cold. I always felt like small talk was polite talk nobody really wants to know your true feelings they want that easy answer that’s short. But, maybe I should just try to actually say how I feel to see if the person is really interested in how I feel rather than just killing time.

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