If there's one thing a lot of people can agree on, it's that small talk really freaking sucks!!
There are some days where I have a lot of energy and my social battery is full. My smile comes out full force naturally, I'm bursting with ideas and conversation, and I get joy out of doing a bit of chit-chat with the baristas and neighbors and sales clerks.
But still, when that small chitchat of "thank you" and "nice day today!" goes to - "Where are you from? What do you do for work?" - my eyes start to roll around my head looking for an exit door.
Maybe it's because I'm a Scorpio, but I want to expend my personal-social energy on very close friends, family, and myself. That's it. Unless I can be very authentic and easy-going with a stranger... but then, that stranger would turn quickly into a good friend.
Small talk is so often the way to get to a close relationship... but it sits in the land of discomfort and superficiality. Sometimes, I enjoy the superficial realm, and I partake in it with pleasure. But most of the time, I just want to be in silence. With close friends, we get to either sit comfortably in silence or talk with genuine interest in each other. Small talk on the other hand, for me, lacks genuine interest and also sometimes makes me wonder "are they hitting on me... or trying to sell me something...?"
I wondered for so long what is wrong with me?? I have despised small talk since I was a kid. Like avoiding my teenage hotspots to not have to run into old classmates "despise." But functioning "normally" in this world required me to either be seen as "antisocial" or put on a mask and pretend to show interest.
As I get older, I get more and more burnt out with small talk. So more and more, I have accepted being okay with the "antisocial" label. Working for myself, traveling to countries where most of the people don't speak English, eliminating many social commitments and planned FaceTimes, leaving my house only when I'm feeling recharged, have all made my life easier with being more authentic.
But sometimes... the dreaded moment comes... you've just cried that morning, and you feel like crap, and you have no energy, but you find yourself doing it anyways, and there's almost no way out...
Okay... if there is almost no way out, like in a job interview, where you have to do a bit of the chittychatchat at the start, then it helps to use it as an opportunity to practice speaking about ourselves as authentically as we can.
Otherwise, here is what I do to avoid small talk when I find myself in a situation where I just don't want to and don't have to:
1. Poker Face + Keep Things Short
I consciously keep my face less... lively. Not much of a smile or long eye contact... they usually get the hint after some time.
Why it's hard: Guilt pops up, and a voice inside of me says "Stop being mean! You have no need to be grouchy today." I have to remember that boundaries are not mean... boundaries can be set through body language, and I have the right to decide if I want to engage in conversation or not! Sometimes, people take offense to curtness... but I also have remember that how they feel is not my responsibility.
2. Talk slowly.
This helps me to stay more present in the moment and actually be more authentic. Because I get to be more aware of what I say, and speak more from a place of honesty than something rehearsed.
Why it's hard: Sometimes, the discomfort kicks in, and I just want to finish the conversation ASAP. So I go fast to try to get to the end. It can also feel a bit awkward to have silences with strangers... more on that later.
3. Turn the conversation into something that does interest me.
Maybe I'll have a genuine question and do the "by the way, do you happen to know...."
Why it's hard: Sometimes, I'm just not interested at all in engaging with people I don't know, even if it is indeed about a personal interest of mine. There's a common perception that to be socially intelligent and bright, we should be interested in other people and be open to conversation. It's my belief that as we grow more open inside of ourselves, we grow more open to the world... but not always in the form of talking. We may be more present with people emotionally, or be able to observe them better from afar, or have a deeper interest in humanitarian affairs. But there's absolutely nothing wrong or antisocial with lacking interest in people we don't know.
6. Ask questions that go deeper.
Personally, I love psychoanalyzing people and trying to figure out what the deeper motivations are behind why they do what they do.
Why it's hard: It's hard to know someone's boundaries when we've just met. I probably also wouldn't be very comfortable opening up to someone that I just met either...
7. Understand that most other people also dislike small talk.
It's just a social norm that most of us comply with but secretly despise...
Why it's hard: Everyone seems so good at it... the automatic program in me signals to my brain "smile and do the whole shebang"... and there I go along with it. But it does take the pressure off to know that other people also don't want to really talk, may not truly be interested, and only talk because they feel pressured by the social norm.
8. Be silent.
This is probably the most undervalued social skill of all time. Being silent with people around me actually helps me to sit with my feelings more than desperately filling the space with sound. When I'm silent, I get to be more emotionally present with the person - processing my own thoughts, feelings, and intuiting the other person as well.
Why it's hard: People may think that I'm not interested or engaged, which makes them feel awkward, which makes me feel awkward, which makes us both want to fill the air up with chatter even though neither of us are truly present...
There is such a pressure to keep communication going, making silence seem uncomfortable. Silence can seem to highlight differences or a gap in connection. Emotions that we have suppressed in ourselves could also come up in silence, making it even more uncomfortable when there's nothing to distract us.
I've been around people who are brave enough to be silent... and it felt f*cking awkward!! But that's because I wasn't yet comfortable with the concept of silence and judged it as rudeness, a lack of worth on my part if they don't want to ask me questions, etc.
Creating a space with silence - which is something that many of us secretly want but don't know how to achieve - actually can help us connect better with others, turning small talk into a moment of deeper bonding.
Social anxiety really boils down to the fear of judgment from others. "If I'm silent, they will think that I am... antisocial / uninterested / uninteresting / socially deficient / socially inferior / boring / etc." If we are able to change our beliefs, then our fear-based reactions can also change.
I can tell myself that silence actually can be a higher, more refined level of socializing that can be integrated into my daily life. Silence is mystery, power, a boundary, and also compassion (giving both the self and the other space to just be).
Being silent is a skill to practice that may trigger anxiety initially. But with enough time and practice and exposure, it becomes easier to do so.
And the more confident we are in who we are on the inside, the easier it becomes not to seek validation from the outside.