Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Introverts Hate Small Talk

I don't like small talk. No. I hate it. The surprise factor of this statement should hover somewhere near zero for anyone who has read this blog, or who knows me personally. I am an introvert, and in general, we don't do the small talk thing.

But why? Even extroverts who have read about introverts know that we don't do small talk, but can't see what the big deal is. Small talk is such a part of our society, yet half of that very society cannot stand it. I cannot speak for 100% of Introvertkind, but I will lay out some of the reasons I hate it which I think are common to many introverts.

-To begin with, it is exactly the same every time. Anywhere. If you are engaging me in small talk, it means you are treating me in the precise same manner when you approach me as you did the last stranger you approached. And depending on the venue, I may have just seen you approach the person right before me and heard you ask the same asinine questions of them. Just as I will hear you ask them to the person by the punch bowl once you have decided our conversation is over. 

-It's not a conversation. It's a metric. You are using it to determine the nature of a new person. How they react, how they speak, what they feel like when engaged. It is a horrible way of getting to know me because I hate being tested, and I will usually act accordingly. I don't have to be rude, but the cues will be there that the nature of the conversation makes me uncomfortable because I know I will be judged by how well I perform at the task. 

-Small talk is expected. Want to make sure I, and many other introverts don't do something? Insist that it is what we are expected to do by everyone else.

-It is irrelevant. If an introvert has decided to leave home and bring himself to a place full of people he doesn't know, chances are there was a very good reason for it. The reason for the gathering or the meeting. It probably was not easy for him to come, and isn't a walk in the park to stay. He'd like to get on with the specific reason he attended this function. (Or worse, the reason he was summoned, if you have some kind of authority over him.) Unless the meeting was called to discuss the crab dip and the heat wave, I am not going to be  receptive to such talk, despite outward attempts to be polite.

-Small talk is inauthentic. Look, I sympathize with those who use small talk to a degree. I really do. For an extrovert it is a valuable tool to ease into a conversation, and possibly a friendship with a new person. But if they are honest even extroverts will admit that it is just a tool. That even they are not the least bit interested in how difficult it was for me to drive to this building, or if I ran into any traffic on the way. They know that they don't really care, and I certainly know they don't care. It is a rouse to start talking to someone new. But I would rather be approached cold with an authentic question, then be warmed up by the small talk.

-It's a waste of resources. Mindless small talk requires little brain power. Introverts spend most of their time thinking. Processing ideas. Finding themselves engaged in small talk slams on the brakes of their active brain. The subjects are so empty, there is no need to form an opinion and/or argument that they can then share with those around them.  Like renting the biggest self-storage unit in the city and storing nothing in it but a roll of paper towels. It is space and money wasted. Small talk is like that roll sitting in the vast expanse of the mind to an introvert. It's a waste of resources.

-It lacks creativity. Many introverts are creative types, and few things are as bereft of creativity as small talk.

All of this may sound like I am denigrating those who are both good at and enjoy small talk. That is not my intention. My main purpose today is to shine more light on why I and other introverts like myself despise small talk. Because the more I am honest about the reasons, instead of just repeating how much I hate it, the more likely it is someone out there will take an extra moment and consider a new way to approach known introverts. And if that happens, more people win.

Do you do small talk?


Laryssa said...

To throw a wrench into this: I don't necessarily like the nature or content of small talk, and I agree with much of what you wrote. However, when you live in a big city, where you're surrounded by lots of people with little to no connection, a small exchange I have with a cashier or even someone sitting next to me on the train can be very welcome. Otherwise, I can go hours without talking to anyone, and I don't like that.

Ty Unglebower said...

You make an interesting and fair point. And it isn't that I disagree with the sentiment. Rather I don't know if I consider polite conversation with, as you say, the cashier or the passenger next to you to be "small talk" as it were.

Intent has a lot to do with it, I suppose. To make an effort to say something nice or warm to the cashier even though you only will be around them for a few moments is indicative of an authenticity that I believe most small talk over the course of an event lacks.

Say, a business card exchange, which tend to be designed specifically for small talk, at least at first. That sort of thing, in my view, is shallow and empty in most cases. Unlike trying to be kind to the cashier, talking to someone at an event about invented minutia is not personal. It is, to me, tacky.

Ty Unglebower said...

Also, the big city angle is one that merits consideration.

Barbie (@grumpywienerdog) said...

I'm an introvert and I also hate small talk. Don't get me wrong, I'll give the cashier at the local supermarket a friendly hello, weather is nice, Yes that ice cream IS really good, etc etc. BUT, I would rather just give them my cash and go.

For some reason, strangers flock to me and will ask me questions or just talk about their dead animals when I'm at CVS or Petsmart. I don't understand it and it makes me uncomfortable. Mainly because I just don't know what to say in return.

I also generally really have no idea what to say to someone I am meeting for the first time except, where do you live and what do you do. Unless they give me something that I have a real connection with, I don't get any further in the conversation than that.

Ty Unglebower said...

Dead animals? That's a rather difficult topic to contribute anything to, whether introverted or not!

I also do the cashier thing sometimes. Like I said, I am down with that sort of chatter more so than the networking sort of chatter.

Meeting someone for the first time can indeed be tricky. Sometimes I will actually tell them, (depending on the venue of course) that I tend to be a quiet observer until I actually know somebody better. Surprisingly, people have not always responded negatively to this.

Barbie (@grumpywienerdog) said...

Yeah, that was quite the topic as I'm picking out treats for my very alive dogs in Petsmart. I mean, what do you say when someone is talking about that?

Good idea about just putting it out there that you are an introvert. I should try that. Most people think I'm a B***h. haha. no lie.

Ty Unglebower said...

People sometimes think I am an aloof prick. Telling people up front that I tend to be a bit distant for a while is not something I thought to do until later years. And you still get funny looks, but just as often you get people who, though they may not understand, certainly don't assume you are anti-social or think yourself better than they.

Try it sometime. You may even run into another introvert in the process!

Keet said...

Well said! And Barbie Weinerdog (HA! LOVE IT) is right. Being a female introvert has a whole extra set of baggage, obstacles & labels. Introversion in men can be received as mysterious, aloof, lone wolf, etc. (I know not always) For us girls, it's pretty much arrogant self absorbed rude bitches or nothing. :) Apparently we are SUPPOSED to care about all the little details like baby's bodily functions & decorating with rusty old things. I do not. Loved your post, small talk is draining & annoying & exhausting & I resent the time & energy it takes to maintain.

Ty Unglebower said...

Interesting about the female angle. It makes sense that a woman who is stand offish or a quiet observer may be labeled more negatively than a man in the same situation would be. I guess it is yet another deeply ingrained gender role within our society.

Megan said...

I'm an extrovert (most the time? I'm still up in the air about this one.) but I hate small talk in the networking sense as well. I'm always anxiously awaiting for it to end so I can go talk big somewhere else. Big talk. That's what I like. And I'll big talk with just about anyone.

I do also like to provide some cheer or warmth with folks I encounter in retail, restaurant, and other service environments.

Ty Unglebower said...


It's nice to get a perspective from an extrovert who also hates small talk! I hope it didn't seem like I was saying that all extroverts HAVE to love it. Just seems that more of them do than introverts.

Noel said...

For me, small talk really depends on the actual conversation itself and where it leads. Yes, I've made small talk that is absolutely mind-numbing, but I have also had similar conversations which lead to something really amazing.

Ty Unglebower said...

I believe it, Noel. I guess it is all a matter of what a specific person is willing to put themselves through in the hopes of reward.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post. I'm am the introverted cashier. I only took the job because the economy sucks and I needed a quick job to pay the bills since no one was hiring. I hate small talk. My parents think I am being rude because I hate talking to people, therefore  I hate my job. It burns me out, and I plan on quitting very soon (before I totally lose it and kill myself just so I want have to go to work tomorrow), but honestly I care about your life as much as you care about mines. I don't care about your health, the weather, sports, your crying baby, spoiled children, or anything else. If you greet me, I will greet you back. Unless you speak about something that is enlightened like the state of the economy, the growing rate of people becoming homeless or the growing gap between the rich and the poor, or things that are of importance and meaning then I don't give a crap about what you have to say. Cashiers get paid crappy pay, deal with so many rude and irate  customers who get angry at them for things that are out of their control, their managers treat them like shit, customers treat them like the superior to them, are impatient, throw money at the cashier or throw it on the counter, or get angry at us because something is not the price they want it to be, and that's not including their personal lives. Most people who work in retail hate their jobs and only take on that job because that have to not because they want to. Therefore, cut the bull. I rarely engaged in a conversation with customer. I am only polite meaning if you greet me, I greet you. If I care about what you have to say, I'll respond. If not, I will ignore you until the end of the conversation and then I'll make sure you have all your bags, hand  you your change (regardless whether you threw it at me or not) and receipt and bid you a good day or say here's your receipt and that's the end of it.

Anonymous said...

As a cashier, I get test this theory everyday regardless whether I want to or not. A customer comes to my line and some speak you while others throws things at you and don't acknowledge you. This customer appears nice and ask how's your day. Most of time, even if am feeling really depressed, suicidal, sick, or sad over the lost or suffering of a loved one, I say i am okay or fine. I lost the ability to smile or pretend that I am happy to be there ( a key asset to a cashier so I'll be fired soon if I don't quit). Out of blue, sometimes I am honest and say that I don't want to be there, I hate my job, or I'm feeling down, and they really don't care. They give you a fake smile (even the friendly looking ones), and telling you to ring up their items, check the price of something, or whether their items or separate or together.That's the any of that. My point is small talk is bullshit. No one gives a damn about you in this world, and if you don't have yourself in this world, you're in trouble. Even from a business prespective, i think small talk is stupid. Both parties know that you meeting because the other party wants your money. Instead of just telling the other party why they should do business with them, you have to kiss thief ass, wine them, dine them, and sometimes take them to the strip club. Please! Now, that is a waste of time and valuable resources. My point is I think small talk is stupid unless it is something of relevence. Don't ask me how's my day unless you really want to know which I know you don't so just say hi or hello when you see me. A better question to ask especially an introvert, who hates speaking unless it is of something of importance and when we do speak we are blunt and to the point, is to ask them what they are thinking.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, it really made me think about the type of person i am. It also made me feel quite normal for a change which was a rather pleasant feeling. I’m a very introverted person and in recent years i have been trying very hard to be more extroverted because i assumed that the expected norm. Its strange as i changed a lot at uni and started enjoying the social pros of having an extroverted girlfriend but deep down i haven’t changed a bit. Now i’m living with my fiancée and i work in a customer facing role/live and drive quite far in a big city. I find this absolutely exhausts me mentally and is more than likely is the cause of my recent unhappiness. I think i will most certainly engage myself in more downtime. It’s something that i miss dearly and i completely understand the idea of running of empty now. I genuinely believed that being extroverted and sociable was the way to go but i can’t change who i am as a person.

This is probably quite odd but i tend to feel guility about being introverted around my fiancee. She is a very chatty person (is a lecturer at a uni) and quite often tries to engage me in small talk but i’m not interested. I am a big fan of playing games on my own (not a fan of all this co-op nonsense)/reading and there’s nothing i love more than having the flat to myself when she is away on business. Perhaps I’ll sit down with her tonight and talk about this. I think she’ll understand. Then again there is the possibility that she’ll have a pop at me and say I’m just being selfish with my time.

But thanks for the insight, it is much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post and all of the comments. I just returned from getting highlights and it was difficult to be a part of the small talk that occurs in a beauty salon. I am a 27 yr old female who is an introvert artist despite being a bartender throughout college. I do engage my coffee barista and deli guy in slight small talk and.smiles just to be nice as I was once in the service industry and they seem like they are yearning for it. Trade shows and networking events disgust me and I have to fight through them, act, and drink wine!

Ty Unglebower said...

Wine sounds like a good idea for such events. Too bad most do not serve it!

Acting is the better idea. I am an actor, but I have yet to perfect the kind of acting where I have to be me, but more outgoing than I would naturally be. I am a good actor, but I am not sure I am good enough to convince people I don't hate that kind of networking shindig. =)

Anonymous said...

I'm an introvert who pretends to be an extrovert for a living (I'm in Sales)...The thing is, unless you want to live a completely solitary life (I don't...even as an introvert, I want some real friendships), you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere is often small's where we learn the basic facts about people. Most of these small talk conversations lead nowhere, but a rare and beautiful few have led to some amazing friendships, and one led to my 17 years and counting fantastic marriage. Just sayin' :-)

Ty Unglebower said...

I am sure at any given time small talk can lead somewhere. But that somewhere is not worth getting to me and people like me, if the process is so very loathsome. Which it is.

There are to me all kinds of methods that could lead to certain success, and the cost of making one miserable. Life is too short for that, so while I agree one has to start somewhere, I prefer to start somewhere with substance, and avoid small talk altogether. Otherwise, the first impression I make will not be an accurate one at all.

Genevieve said...

Ty, I truly appreciate you, who are so real. Your article, in my opinion, is perfect. I will be a senior citizen next month, and it has been a lonely life, due to the fact that there are more [here and now] people who deal only with tangibles, than there are my type. They have no original thoughts and are happy that way.
The frustrating part is that they are the "normal" ones, at least by being in the majority. I'm an introvert in that I'm engtirely in my head, even, for example, the way I enjoy a waterfall, by taking it all in. But, hey, I like people and I love parties. I use the opportunity to amuse my self, and not at their expense. When someone says, "How are you," I respond with exactly the same words. They then respond with, "Fine, thank you," without seeming to realise what I did there. Then when they get into the small talk,(and I'd rather have a beating, than do that), I counter with, "By the way, I'm taking a survey. When was the last time you ate a pear?" They answer that in many different ways and usually tell me why, or I ask. It leads to all kinds of interesting topics, and they didn't notice what I did there either.

Ty Unglebower said...

Genevieve, thank you for your very touching and inspirational comment. As you can tell I am quite simpatico with you when it comes to such things. One of the reasons I started this blog, and called it Too XYZ as that I had started to feel there was a certain type of person, such as myself, who just didn't have as much a voice in this noisy, extroverted society. (Even though studies indicate there are just as many of us as there are them, they tend to get rewarded more quickly.)

Your idea to ask about the last time one has eaten a pear is bold, creative, and highly effective I am sure. It gets people warmed up to getting to know you, without having to resort to the soulless banter I mentioned in this post. It is an idea I will have to remember for the future.

I am sorry for your lonely life, but can certainly relate to it. It is the world's lost to have not taken more time to get to know someone as obviously deep as you yourself. Best of luck and peace to you, and feel free to come back and read/comment whenever you like. You are always welcome here by your fellow introverts. =)

Equanimity said...

Ty, what would you consider "deep talk" questions with a stranger?

Whenever I have a real conversation with someone, I feel my head tingle, I get lost in the moment, focus intensely in the conversation, and lose track of time. I love real talks, but just don't know how to start them.

I'm an introvert myself in the most extraverted school in the U.S., so I deal with small talk 24/7. Also I live with 40 other people on the floor, who constantly keep coming to our room to talk, so you need to imagine how quickly my energy keeps draining when having small talk with every individual.

Thanks for the article, it's great to see other people stuck thinking 24/7. Felt like I was the only one that was so wrapped in this head of mine,

Ty Unglebower said...


You are certainly not the only one who feels the way you do. The "being stuck thinking 24/7" is actually more common than you might think. (Remember, we introverts are in fact just over 50% of the population, despite contrary claims!)

"Deep talk" to me requires conversations that require some time to think and process an answer or observation. Things that require one to explain the nature of what they think something, perhaps in several steps, and then allowing the other people to respond with similarly detailed answers.

It requires no thought to mention what I think of the weather, and such other frequent topics of small talk.

Rob Y said...

Ty,just found your blog today by typing "hate small talk" in google. Great post!

I'm an extreme introvert, scoring at either the very end or near the end of the scale on every trait-based personality test I've ever taken. For better or worse, it's what I am. I can't change, although I've tried for decades. I can definitely identify with those who become exhausted by small talk.

I have beloved friends and relatives as well as total strangers who like nothing more than to talk about nothing. I finally had to set some ground rules for kith and kin. I can't viscerally understand what they get out of it and I guess I never will. Are they impelled by boredom, loneliness, fear of silence, unresolved or unrecognized conflicts, etc.?

I realize that sounds arrogant or just borderline creepy (or maybe I crossed that line a long time ago lol) but their mindsets are so far removed from mine I have a hard time relating.

Anyway, I've gained some comfort from the posts and comments. Thanks again!

Ty Unglebower said...

Thanks, Rob. Glad you came across the post.

We have to set the boundaries that make us feel at ease with life. There are so many areas in which we have no control over what happens to us, it would be foolish to not exert some kind of control when we can. And if that is keeping small talk at bay with a few ground rules, so be it. Obviously, I can understand why you'd do so.

As for why extroverts love small talk so much...that is one of the enduring mysteries I supposed. It is said they are energized by it. And that it is how they process not only information, but people; they talk a lot. Often in loud, rambling ways.

I guess whatever works for them. But they certainly lose out on getting to know people like yourself, and myself, when they drive us away with such chatter.

David said...

AS an introvert myself, in the last year, I have noticed that many people around me seem to move up within the company I work. Always they seem to be the one who speak a lot, small chat with everybody and according to me small crap because they talk about nothing tangible, concrete. A bit about myself, I am quite friendly, helpful and approachable, I will talk to people for concrete subject but avoid talk that go nowhere(it is just my brain that seems to have nothing to answer). Moreover, I do not like group talk because I often notice that people are fake and don t say what they really think, (on an honest one on one conversation, they will tell you something different than in group)
Socially, I am a go to person to fix a problem. People really trust my insight about life and seek me for confidential conversation on real stuff, they don t seek me for day to day talk. And technically, I have a great knowledge and understanding which make me a great problem solver.
Therefore, I thought being more sociable would be the way to get promoted, and began to observe more extrovert behaviors and incorporate them into my life. However, I still resent it and avoid it because I consider it as fake and not real.
Being introvert in a customer facing position makes me more efficient than other according to colleague (they say I have a ratio of 3:1) and still customer love me. I smile, go straight to the point, I am pleasant, I problem solve for them when they get angry and throw anger at me for something I did not do. At the end that s all people really care about, give them what they want. No need to small talk. My post is not intended to prize myself but just expose my observation, I hope some of you can relate or learn from it as I am from yours.