Interacting with peers can be a struggle for introverts. Sometimes, even interacting with our good friends can be emotionally and intellectually draining. But in order to be perceived as more “likable” and get along with our co-workers, being savvy at small talk is a must. Without that skill, we often find ourselves losing out on promotions, jobs, and projects we may be interested in like this introvert who wrote into “Ask a Boss” on the website, The Cut. So how can we prevent ourselves, as introverts, from being held back in our careers because of our small talk allergy?
Well, it’s definitely not easy. But with some work, you can become a small talk pro and feel a little more comfortable in your office. I’m very much still my slightly awkward, introverted self but after trying a few of the following suggestions, I found that I was able to be a bit more comfortable meeting and greeting new coworkers, as well as taking the next step: proposing new ideas and projects! Give these tips a try to see if they help you break out of your introverted shell (at least around the coffee station!)
- Questions are your friends! My particular stumbling block when it comes to small talk as an introvert is that I hate talking about myself. Icebreakers and workshops that force you to stand in front of others and “describe yourself” or “tell us some interesting things about yourself” are in my recurring nightmares. This has, historically, made me seem like a cold, unfriendly person at work, a perception that takes months for me to change. So, instead of waiting for a “get to know you” game to be thrown my way, I started asking questions. Being a good listener is definitely a plus in any field, but did you know asking thoughtful questions can make you more likeable to others? In a series of studies at Harvard Business School, researchers found that those people who “asked more questions, particularly follow-up questions, were considered more likeable.” You can start off easy, with questions like “where are you from” or “how long have you worked here?” Eventually, you’ll become more comfortable and a small conversation can develop!
- Be genuine. If you’re struggling with small talk at the office because you’re worried how people will react or engage with your personality, the best (but not the easiest) thing to do is be genuine. You’re probably a pretty interesting individual, so just let that out in appropriate ways. Say a new coworker has an interest in a particular type of art you like. Don’t be afraid to compliment a print they have hanging on their wall, or share your interest. If you see someone reading a book you enjoy, same thing: let them know you liked that book, too. It’s tough, but doing this a little bit here and there will help you get more comfortable in your office and help you make friends in the office.
- Be purposeful. As an introvert, my biggest struggle with small talk has been that I am uncomfortable sharing my thoughts around strangers and that I’ve always felt small talk about the weather was kind of pointless. What a waste of time, I thought. I found that it was easier to avoid talking to anyone than trying to cover up how much I really hate small talk. But, small talk is an important part of being happy in a company and I had to learn to tolerate it at some point. So if you’re the kind of introvert who doesn’t see a purpose in small talk, try making it purposeful. Though it can seem so, small talk isn’t just superficial nonsense. It can lay a foundation for career success and friendships down the line. It’s the first step in getting to know someone. You can tell a lot about someone talking about the weather! For example, if you comment on the rain someone may tell you how much they love gloomy, rainy days and you know something about that person you didn’t before.
Depending on your workplace, making small talk or not probably won’t hurt your career but engaging with the people around you can make you seem more invested in the work you do. And, you’re going to be much more happy going into the office when you have friends there! If you’re still not sure where to get started with your small talk skills, check out the Career Readiness Bootcamp certificate, which covers communication and interpersonal skills in the workplace.