Hey, introverts! Small talk isn’t “shallow,” you just suck at it

There’s this list of myths about introverts has been getting (smugly) passed around the internets lately by, wait for it … yes, by introverts.

As a Registered Introvert msyelf, with excellent credentials — an actual hard-working writer, a power loner for decades now — my contract says I’m obliged to share this list of introversion myths with a clear statement of approval: “I’m an introvert, and I totally ❤ this message.”

Unfortunately, I’m not quite as enthusiastic as I’m supposed to be. Oh dear.

Busting some myths, perpetuating others

Most of it is fine. Introversion really is a little misunderstood. But only a little, I think. And I’m afraid the list is probably perpetuating some myths even as it busts others. Worst of all, the article skirts the edge of making excuses for behaviour that isn’t so much introverted as just immature and socially inept. The best example is the “small talk” thing, right at the top, Myth #1:

Introverts don’t like to talk. This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Hate small talk? Wrong. This myth is a myth. Most smart introverts embrace small talk and excel at it. Done right, small talk is not so small: it’s a highly functional social skill, and no big deal.

Trash talking small talk

“Small talk” gets a bad rap — it’s baked right into the name — but it serves many valuable social purposes. It’s the human equivalent of dogs sniffing butts. For the introvert, it’s particularly valuable as an efficient way to find out who’s worth talking to more. For everyone else, it’s just how we do sanity and maturity checks on new people while the stakes are low. It’s a low-key opportunity to demonstrate good judgement, so all the more reason why it makes you look bad if you can’t or won’t do it.

Socially and emotionally mature people are never going to give you the time of day if you won’t give them the time of day. If you act too good for small talk and pretentiously lunge for more “profound” conversations, or avoid any topic that isn’t important enough for your majesty, the only people who will be impressed are other socially inept critters with their own delusions of intellectual grandeur.

I know this, of course, because I used to be guilty of it, a long time ago. I have painful memories of complaining about small talk when I was young. But I wasn’t just young: I was also a pretentious weirdo with the emotional IQ of a garden gnome.

People usually trash talk small talk because they suck at it. It’s evasion. “Oh, that social skill I don’t have? I hate that social skill. Who needs it.” This attitude isn’t characteristic of introverts: it’s characteristic of immaturity.