I identified as an introvert for the first 21 years of my life. It was only recently, after reading more into the psychology behind introversion/extroversion that I re-assigned myself to ‘ambivert’.
In university, I studied business and my classmates tended to be extremely social. I’ve never been good at making small talk and found myself particularly lacking compared to my classmates. They communicate so freely with each other! It doesn’t seem like a chore when they do it! I would try to imitate their social egregiousness but always felt like a fraud for doing so.
When my roommates went out to attend faculty beer gardens, I preferred to stay in my dorm room and binge watch Battlestar Galactica or Korean dramas. The times I did go out with them, I always felt so drained and tired from faking small talk with people I didn’t know. I saw others get closer to each other and felt more like an outsider. There must be something wrong with me.
It wasn’t that I had nothing to say. In fact – I had plenty of thoughts I wanted to share with others. But I could never wade far enough into the small talk to get to the things I wanted to say before just giving up.
How I saw small talk in those days:
“I went skiing over the weekend.”
“I don’t have anything to wear to the formal next month.”
“I had to spend a lot of money on car repair, what a drag.”
Such comments to me were nothing more than the banal regurgitation of one’s daily lifestyle.
While I don’t mind hearing updates from my friends, I don’t see any value in receiving small talk from strangers or acquaintances. Why do I need to know how your day was or what you’re doing this weekend? It doesn’t concern me, chances are I won’t even see you again. By telling me this information, I feel obligated to remember it in case it comes up again in the future – and why would I want to keep this information about someone I don’t care about around?
This extended to giving out my name to people I thought I wouldn’t see again. I didn’t understand the point, and I didn’t want to know their name either. If they tell me it, I’m obligated to remember it forever (just in case we run into each other again) – so I avoided introducing myself and receiving the introduction of others. I think I embarrassed the friends I did have with my behavior around strangers.
In the first corporate summer job I had during university, I didn’t make friends with any of my coworkers. They invited me out to coffee with them, and I would go and not say much. Eventually they stopped asking, and it was to my relief because now I didn’t have to think of things to say.
By all accounts I should’ve been somewhat of a loner. How does someone who avoid small talk make any new friends?
Luckily, there are always those who are attracted to introverts and offer themselves freely for friendship (basically doing all the work at the beginning) – and I was fortunate enough to run into a few of these wonderful creatures. Then there are the ones who became my friends simply through happenstance, we were in each other’s social circles for so long that one day we realize we are very similar.
How I ‘cured’* my introversion:
Since then, I’ve heard from some of these people that I came across as being closed off and snobby. It’s sad to me that that was the impression I gave them. In my head, I wasn’t being dismissive, I was being authentic because I didn’t want to lie to them by pretending I was interested in what they were saying – really I’m the nice one here guys! I’m just being honest.
In the past 5 years of working full time in a corporate environment. I’ve had to make small talk with clients as a part of my job. It doesn’t bother me to do so, because I understand it’s something I ‘have’ to do in order to do well. During that time of actively engaging others, I realized just how difficult it is to connect with closed off people like I was. In order to even communicate with me, they basically had to do all the work until at some arbitrary point – I decide to reciprocate. Having a conversation was like pulling teeth. Why would anyone want to do that? It’s easier to form connections when the other party is actually interested in responding.
Even though I’ve taught myself how to make small talk, I’ve also come to realize and accept that I will NEVER enjoy small talk or seek it out willingly – it’s just not in my DNA. I can train myself to do it, but I can’t enjoy it the way true extroverts do.
Some extroverts think that being introverted is a curse and that introverts wish they were extroverts. This is definitely not true. My alone time is wonderful and I really enjoy being by myself. I watch dramas, I read books, I go out and jog, I listen to music, I contribute to a number of online communities I’m a part of, sometimes I just like to zone out and get lost in my own thoughts without anyone interrupting me by talking.
I hope that friends and acquaintances reading this can get a better glimpse of a (former) introvert’s thoughts on making conversation.
I really like other people.
I really like my friends and want to be there for them.
I don’t like making small talk, and when my social energy reserves are low – I want to be by myself rather than to spend time with you.*
It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with my own needs.
Are any of you guys introverts or have introverted friends? If you’re an introvert, do you wish you can change the way you communicate with others?
* if one must find a temporary ‘cure’ for introversion, it’s moderate alcohol consumption.
** low social energy is not a valid reason to bail on plans last minute, I’ve known several introverts who are so guilty of flaking out at the last moment to something they committed to – and while I understand their reasons for doing so – it’s still incredibly frustrating and rude for everyone else involved. If you make a commitment, stick to it. If you don’t have enough social energy to commit to everything, say NO from the beginning. Introverts are wonderful, glorious beings but flakes are the scum of the earth. I made this mistake when I was younger because I was afraid of being disliked by others so I agreed to everything. I ended up bailing sometimes because I just couldn’t muster my energy. In the end, it cost me friends and it’s not ok to do.