When I first began discovering personality types, I struggled to figure out where I fit. In a sea of well-meaning people trying to understand themselves, I stumbled across countless websites and people who attempted to describe introversion and extraversion in basic terms related to everyday experiences. It wasn't bad to connect dots this way, but several things I found were misleading.
Some were fairly innocuous, such as Introverts claiming to prefer reading a book rather than attending a party. Given that I typically stayed indoors with a book, but still wanted to discuss it with a group of friends after, it didn't really add up why enjoying reading was distinctly introverted. Others felt a bit more pointed — statements like Introverts were better listeners, where Extraverts talked far too much. I knew I had a tendency to ramble on when I was talking about something I loved, but I strived to dedicate plenty of time to listen when my friends spoke.
Yet the one that seemed to throw me more than most was the declaration that you could identify an Introvert because they absolutely hated small talk.
Small talk is excruciating ... for everyone
The thing that confused me about this particular association with introversion is that, as an Extravert, I didn't like small talk, either. While I had debated off and on about whether I was genuinely extraverted or introverted, I eventually realized that I gained energy from discussing things with others. I enjoyed conversations that stimulated thought and created deeper connections. I felt alive during those interactions. It wasn't just the concept of being around people, but having enriching discussions and understanding them better.
I wasn't the biggest fan of having surface-level talks but knew sometimes this was the easiest way to form trust with a person. It was also the best distraction if someone needed a break from something serious or intense. I was fine having small talk conversations for a while, but it was never something I was ecstatic about. I didn't understand why hating small talk was such a distinctly introverted trait.
The more I came across this concept, the more I wondered if Introverts truly believed that we Extraverts actually enjoyed small talk. Did they assume that because we gained energy from being around people, we must desire shallow or superficial topics in ways that they never could?
Let me get this out of the way — Extraverts hate small talk just as much as Introverts do. I promise.
Extraverts can tolerate small talk so much more than Introverts
You know how some people can tolerate pain so much more than others? You’d never say that those people enjoyed pain — they can just handle more of it before it becomes a problem for them.
It’s the same with small talk. Extraverts don't necessarily like it; they can just handle more of it. They don't get exhausted as quickly as Introverts do.
The fact is, no one raves about the conversations where you talked about nothing of substance. That's true regardless of their personality type. Extraverts love to dive in and talk about things beyond a surface level and, once you get to know an Extravert personally, you discover that. Personally, I am more energized having a conversation with two of my closest friends about theories they're passionate about than I am being in a room of 20 people talking about something I won't remember once I leave.
However, where Introverts will likely shy away from meeting new people at first for fear of being drained, Extraverts are trying to make connections any way they can.
Small talk becomes valuable when we conceptualize it
Most of my close friendship group is made up of Introverts, and they often claim that this happened because I kept showing up at their door, attempting to converse with them until they finally accepted I was in their life.
Though it is a running joke, it does say quite a bit about how Extraverts feel when approaching Introverts (or even other Extraverts). For most people, if a stranger walks up to you, sits down, and starts asking about a controversial topic, you might feel uncertain or threatened by them. Small talk may be annoying, but that’s just because we’re forgetting all the ways it’s useful to us as we seek to make connections with others. It does give a more leisurely start to feel comfortable with a person.
The truth is, life is tough to get through without making some kind of small talk. Extraverts aren't in love with it. We just lean into it because the thing that gives us the most energy is people, so of course, we will exercise whatever we can to form new connections and build upon current ones.
Small talk can be the difference between being excluded from an important circle or moving up in the world. A simple "How are you?" could change the trajectory of where a person stands. Extraverts don't participate in this social ritual because they think it's incredible — they do it because of where it could take them. The possibility of a new friend, a potential date, more interaction with their coworkers, or networking with people they admire seems to outweigh the negatives.
It’s not a question of intelligence, but of energy
Despite the potential payoff, I've never met any person who actually adores small talk. It's not a category of conversation that people enjoy participating in — you don't often find yourself excited to run into a room and ask someone you don't know well about the weather. I promise Extraverts aren't all sitting in a room asking the same tired five questions and being overjoyed about it. There aren't secret club meetings where the ‘Let's break the ice’ sessions are the only thing on the agenda.
This isn't to say that Introverts should suddenly throw themselves into small talk conversations or pretend to like them more. Introverts are allowed to point out that they don't want to engage in something insignificant to them.
But not enjoying small talk isn't a trait only applicable to introversion; it just shows people tend to do things differently. I understand where Introverts are coming from: they are drained by most social interactions and would rather not spend the energy they do have on something that seems irrelevant to what they really want. It makes perfect sense!
Yet, at some point, rather than us explaining it this way, we began a conversation that pushed an unintentional side effect: the idea that "Introverts hate small talk because they prefer superior conversation, and Extraverts by default love small talk because they are shallow and uninterested in matters that require more depth."
The underlying message has become that choosing to engage in small talk has to do with intelligence rather than energy.
Let’s get the conversation back on track!
Extraverts and Introverts want similar things when it comes to conversations. They want to enjoy themselves, want to connect, and want to get to the heart of the matter.
The way they go about this tends to vary, of course. Introverts usually won't engage with a person unless they are confident that they can connect deeply with them conversationally, meaning that they will sometimes miss out on people if they judge them too soon.
On the other hand, Extraverts will engage with a broad range of people until they find the ones they connect with. This means they could wade through several people that aren't a good fit for them until they come across some they can talk to. They can end up wasting their time if they get caught in a conversation with someone they don't mesh with.
Neither version is perfect, but it does show a description of how we use and protect our energies.
What it comes down to is that we need to celebrate the differences between Introverts and Extraverts, because the world needs both. We just need to determine what those differences actually are. Because Introverts, I guarantee that next time you're at a social gathering, and you're being forced to make conversation, saying the phrase "God, I hate small talk" will be the best icebreaker to talk to anyone — even if they're an Extravert.