When Is Small Talk Not Small?

Small talk is not something introverts tend to enjoy: it usually starts with innocuous inquiries into others’ health or family without really wanting to know the details. However, that was before the pandemic. “How are you doing?” isn’t just small talk anymore. We need to take the time to listen when our peers share their state of mind because we are living through unprecedented and stressful times, and human connections will help get us through the situation. This is a time when introverts can shine.

Introverts are often good listeners. Spending a lot of time in our minds, we are interested in the contents of others’. “Small talk” about the weather or sports can bore some of us because we can find such information trivial to the point of boring. They are more interested in what such events or details mean to the other person.

So right now, a simple, “How are you?” isn’t always easily answered with a simple “Fine.” It’s not simple because each of us is facing a major crisis differently, and not always well. In that case, asking the question can give insight into how the other person is handling the pandemic. It can lead to a deeper, more meaningful exchange.

Mind you, some folks might be tired of talking about the pandemic. I have moments like that myself. I also have times when I would prefer to talk about sports or the weather because I don’t always share my internal thoughts and feelings with others.

However, if you ask “How are you?” and the other person starts sharing some of their deep, serious fears about this situation, be willing to listen. They are not “oversharing.” It is not TMI (too much information). You are giving them an opportunity to unburden themselves. It might delay a work conversation, but really, so what? Every business is about people and meeting their needs. If you’re not willing to take the time to help a fellow human being who’s struggling in the midst of a shared crisis, what makes you think they’re going to expect you to listen or be helpful in more normal circumstances?

Take the time to listen. Your feelings might not be theirs, but it’s worth taking the extra minute or two to hear the other person’s challenges. You might be able to relate or help, you might not. Either way, take the time. The other person will appreciate it.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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