Monday Musings: On Small Talk, Being Social & Community

Like most introverts, I’m not overly fond of small talk. Mostly because I feel like I’m wasting time and energy on something that doesn’t seem to matter much – just noise to fill the void (which I rarely feel needs “filling”). Either that, or it feels like verbal jousting – tossing random sentences at each other until someone either scores a hit or drops the lance. Sometimes that’s fun, but often it’s tedious.

But on a sociological level, I know it does actually matter. It’s not the words so much – that’s why it’s called “small” talk, but when you commiserate/celebrate with someone about the weather or the baseball game you’re watching, or the play/concert that’s about to start, or even point someone in the direction of your favorite restaurant, you’re making a connection. And all of those brief connections add up to what we think of as “community”.

Even most introverts are happier when they feel like part of a community. Being introverted doesn’t mean you don’t need people, it means you need a lot of time to yourself. This past weekend, I really, really wanted to go to our local Renaissance Festival (and I went, and it was great fun – photo above from the jousting demo), but I paid for it too. Just being out and being around people on Saturday meant I had very little “social energy” left over for the family dinner we needed to be at on Sunday. By which I mean to say, I was pretty crabby Sunday and needed some space badly. The fact that I work in an office Mon-Fri leaves me with limited social energy on the weekends anyways (depending on who/how many people I have to interact with during any given week), and while I can normally handle one weekend day of “people” just fine, two days is too much.

Yes, I know. Sounds wimpy, but it just is what it is. Personality quirks like that aren’t something you can just change…you just learn to live with them and work around them whenever possible.

In any case, I’ve been making more of an attempt to engage in brief bouts of small talk this year. Not to annoy people (I hope – I don’t really have the stamina for long convos with people I barely know, so we’re talking a few sentences, if that), but to be “friendlier” and to make connections, however brief. And I’ll freely admit, I mangle it all too often, just because…well, I am who I am, and my particular form of sarcasm/humor/wry commentary isn’t always appreciated or understood. When you’re standing in the checkout line and the woman ahead of you says hi and how are you, and you realize she’s a nun (due to the name tag), and the first thing that comes to mind is “why would someone so young have given up on sex so early?”…yeah. Small talk is a bit awkward when trying to engage the brain around that comment while keeping it from slipping out.

And certain people just make me more nervous than others (read: they make me stupid, which is insanely embarrassing)…it’s a chemical thing, and I still have no idea how to deal with that, really. Fight through it or move on quickly are the only options, it seems. The only real “cure” I think is to get to know those people on a deeper level, and that’s…difficult/impossible with someone you see once or twice total in passing, and sometimes even ill-advised, depending on the circumstances.

I’ll freely admit to being annoyed by those people who, once they have your ear, will tell you their entire life story and then just keep going…but that’s not small talk. That’s what you inflict on your friends & family (or people who connect with you on social media, implying they do actually want to know more about you)…people who already know you, and like you well enough to be interested in your rambling diatribes. A complete stranger isn’t going to appreciate that, on average.

But overall, I do find that connecting with people even on a shallow, two-sentences-in-passing type of level actually *does* make me feel happier. More like part of the “whole”, which is kind of nice, considering I’ve always been (and probably always will be) more of an outsider in general.

Do you initiate small talk with strangers? Or are you more the type to ignore those around you and just go about your business? What’s your reaction when someone initiates a brief conversation with you? Do you get irritated, or do you appreciate the attempt at a social connection, however brief?

Article of Interest: Master the Art of Small Talk with Strangers to be Happy