The Introvert's Guide to
Business Small Talk
by Marcia Yudkin
an introvert, you probably dislike,
disdain and possibly even dread small
talk. Little nuggets of meaninglessness
do not roll off your tongue. You don't
enjoy people tossing dialogue at you and
expecting you to carry the conversation
along. You don't appreciate throwaway
remarks like "How are you?" that could
be taken as deep but are intended as
superficial. And because society defines
being able to talk in any situation as
the normal, decent way to be, you most
likely regard yourself as deficient for
not instinctively knowing how to play
Self-appointed pundits tell us that
small talk has an important human
function. It greases the way for genuine
social and business exchange. The words
themselves don't matter much. They help
establish a connection, much the way
that animals sniff each other out before
they romp ahead as friends.
To introverts, however, words do matter.
Insincerity feels both unnecessary and wrong.
Superficiality seems false. Think of important
scenes in your life where you met someone who
turned out to be a lifelong close friend, a
mentor or a business confidant. Chances are, you
connected right from the beginning, with words
that weren't about the weather, or the Patriots,
or the food, but about something vital you had
Personal Branding for Introverts
So here's what I
say. You don't have to engage in small talk.
Just don't do it.
actually two ways to refrain from small talk.
Both of them unbalance the extrovert who is
trying to get you to behave like them. And
that's a good thing, from where I sit. You send
the signal that you want to be understood on
your own terms.
Method #1 is
saying nothing in reply. Simply smile. I did
this in the library the other day, when the
woman checking out my books chatted, chatted,
chatted at me. "Ooh, you look very outdoorsy
today." I did not let myself be goaded into
saying something personal in reply. The smile
communicated that this was not a hostile move on
my part, that I meant no harm. I just stood my
Be sure to
accompany your silence with a reasonably genuine
smile rather than a smirk, a sulk or a scowl.
The man or woman who doesn't initiate or respond
with small talk often acquires an aura of power
and mystery in others' eyes. Think of Clint
Eastwood, Greta Garbo, Calvin Coolidge or Emily
Dickinson. You're not nasty, unfriendly or
arrogant when you smile and say nothing. Just
self-contained and reserved.
Method #2 also
signals that you don't play the game. Instead of
exchanging banter, you say something meaningful,
something you would say to a friend or something
that invites a heart-to-heart reply.
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Let's say you're
at a networking event. You see someone standing
alone, clinking the ice cubes in her drink. You
walk over and say, "I always feel uncomfortable
coming to these things. How about you?" An
extrovert might be taken aback at this opening,
but another introvert will usually light up and
respond in kind.
Or you open with,
"I'm thinking about trying social media. What
works for you?" Here you've skipped the
banalities and leap right into a genuine talk
about experiences and perspectives.
Unless you enjoy
being a hermit, living in society involves
meeting social expectations to a certain extent.
Most introverts don't mind getting a nice
haircut and wearing deodorant to the office, to
avoid offending others. But when it comes to
connecting with strangers and acquaintances, you
don't have to pretend you're an extrovert.
Follow your own natural tendencies, not theirs.
Your marketing mentor,
P.S. If you're an introvert and could use
intensive feedback and guidance on your
branding, web site, marketing strategy or a
publication project, come work with me
one-on-one next spring on Maui. Your retreat is
structured so you have ample time to relax on
the beach and tour the island, too - and most
likely, your whole trip is tax deductible.
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And be sure to download the free
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