I'm not very good with small talk. I remember watching someone at work who always seemed to be chatting up a storm with anyone and everyone, hoping I'd learn a few tips that I could use myself. Strategies to make it easier to engage myself in conversation with others.
And, then, at other times, I find myself able to talk away, with no hesitation involved!
What makes some situations so hard, and others so easy?
My answer was finally found in a personal assessment taken as part of a leadership course: Introversion and extroversion are both equal parts of who I am, shared in almost exact quantities.
In Susan Cain's book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," I found that I am in good company when I feel my introversion is something to be overcome. But the real blessing came by my finally accepting that others are not mind readers; it is not their fault if they don't realize what's in my heart if I don't make myself be brave enough to release the words I am thinking and feeling.
Cain's book has led to a number of professions being aware of, and wanting, to assist the introvert, for whom keeping thoughts to themselves may have become a life habit. The Quiet Revolution, Quiet Ambassadors Program, and Quiet Schools Network are all examples of the effort that isn't meant to give additional assistance to introverts alone, but to all of us. After all, can one even begin to imagine the wisdom, insights, or great ideas that might come from offering notice, just an extra minute or two, that a question will be asked? That input will be needed?
If this is something with which you struggle, or have peers for whom you feel it applies, you may wish to try one of these strategies:
- If you are the introvert and are asked questions as part of a class or meeting, offer responses when you are more sure you possess a correct answer. And try to do this three times during each session. This way, you will be less likely to be embarrassed by offering an answer where you feel doubt, you will be less likely to be called on when other questions are asked and you don't know the answer, and you'll be able to listen more carefully to responses and discussions for the areas where you have less confidence and knowledge. Plus, you'll earn great credit for participation!
- When you are in charge, or are getting ready to ask for input, in given situations, give attendees notice of input or a question you will be asking. "In a few minutes, I'll be asking about..." Those involved will be able to decide what they want to say, and how they want to say it, and will be ready when the time comes. This strategy works for meetings, and also works in classrooms.
For myself, I've learned to take a deep breath and boldly speak up. Unless, of course, I'm enjoying my own little bit of quiet time.
Photograph by Aidan Meyer.