I can’t make small talk at work — and it’s holding me back

A reader writes:

I work in the legal field. I am not a lawyer, and I love the work I do. Legal practice is a great outlet for my extremely detail oriented tendencies. Leave me in a room with reams of paper, a laptop, and five hard drives of disorganized electronic files, and I’m happy as a clam analyzing and organizing and researching and reporting on what I find. What other workers would find isolating and boring is my nirvana.

I’m definitely an introvert and I find social interaction taxing. I can perform it if I have to, for a while, like a stage role. I interview really well because I’m able to turn it on for a period of time. But chatty cathy social nattering is definitely not my default state. Sometimes I feel like I misrepresent myself in interviews because I can manage it for an hour or two, but not 40 hours a week.

On a day to day basis it just doesn’t occur to me to babble at people about their dogs, or spouse, or my new cappuccino maker, or my funny weekend. I hear other people having these conversations with each other with a vague feeling of amazement, as if they all got a memo I never received, written in a language I wouldn’t have been able to read. When people try to start these conversations with me, it fizzles out because I don’t have the knack.

My managers, who are all lawyers, are all intimidatingly good at this kind of thing because Business Development is an ever present fact of legal life. They eventually figure out that I’m an introvert who is really good at what she does and produces great work product, but who isn’t going to natter unnecessarily.

At least, I hope that’s the conclusion they come to. Honestly though, for some of them it’s not. At least one attorney has come to the conclusion that I’m disagreeable or I just don’t like him. Which isn’t true! I just don’t have anything in common with him other than the work we do, and it’s exhausting to try to pretend that I do on a regular basis.

I interact best with the attorneys who talk to me about work, probably because I know I have a sure footing there, and I feel confident in what I’m saying. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t build a relationship. And the subtle laughing and joking and one-upmanship strong male personalities do with each other, and with women colleagues who can handle it, leaves me unsettled and sometimes deeply uncomfortable.

This is just uber educated type A men who like to think they’ll one day own the world jostling shoulders and elbows verbally with other men of the same type. They play this game with each other, and I don’t know how to play. Which is fine, I’m not one of them. But I also don’t know how to play the witty banter supporting roles either. Or even just have a work conversation about which coffee shop down the street is better than the other. I end up sidelining myself and sitting like a deer in headlights before retreating to my office and getting back to blessed work.

I’ve noticed it affecting my career prospects, and it probably goes without saying, my standing in the world of office politics. Several times I’ve dealt with a situation where I’m right in what I’m saying, but I don’t have the backing of a decision-making attorney, or I’m not able to win the backing, in part because I don’t have those witty social relationships with them, and someone who is factually wrong or otherwise wrongheaded takes the day. In the long view, it’s backfired both times, but that’s cold comfort six months to a year later. And by then my cause is dead in the water.

Do you have any advice for how I can get more comfortable with social work conversations? I’m tired of feeling like the artsy-fartsy nutty professor introvert trapped in a building of chatterboxes who sometimes act to maneuver over my job boundaries when they realize they can.

Hello, fellow introvert! Yes, as someone who similarly has been wishing people would leave me alone ever since I emerged from the womb, this part of work can really suck when you’re someone who wants to do your work in peace and then go home.

When you’re an introvert in an office dominated by extroverts, I think you have two ways to go: You can find ways to “perform” relationship-building that look like the methods your co-workers use but which will probably never feel totally natural to you, or you do things that feel true to you.

But I think you’re more likely to be happy in the long term if you figure out your own ways to build rapport with people, even if those ways don’t look anything like the methods your colleagues are using. One of the most straightforward ways to do that — and one that a lot of introverts find easier to pull off — is just to take a genuine interest in people. You probably have a natural curiosity about people somewhere in you, even if you don’t typically indulge it at work, and this is the time to let it out.

For example: Wondering where the guy down the hall got all those interesting art prints on his wall? Ask. Thinking about taking a vacation to Iceland and remember that your co-worker went there last year? Ask what she did, what she liked, and what she’d recommend against. Always been interested in how your other co-worker switched from art school to law? Ask about it. I don’t mean that you should just pepper people with questions like some sort of crazed interrogator, of course; the idea is just to use things that genuinely intrigue you as ways to build more of a connection with people over time.

If you’re struggling to find anything terribly interesting about the people around you, then you can fall back on simply being kind — which can often just mean checking in on people’s lives. Ask about their kids or their marathon training or how their binge-watching of The Americans is going. Most people so enjoy having someone take an interest in them that they may never realize that you’re not sharing much about yourself (although you will probably get more comfortable doing that too once this method makes people more of a known quantity to you).

Also! Try finding the person in your office who’s most like you but who manages to hold her own in these conversations, and watch how she does it. There’s probably someone who’s a bit less polished in these conversations than everyone else but who jumps in anyway; see if you can figure out what works for her. You might find that she has three topics she mainly sticks to, or that she just speaks her mind without worrying about how it’s perceived and people like her for it, or who knows what — but there are probably interesting data points in there for you if you pay attention.

And keep in mind that you don’t need to do this for 40 hours a week. You only need to do it for five to ten minutes at a time, a handful of times a week. That time commitment is pretty small but can take you from “Jane, whom I never see or speak with” to “Jane, who talked with me about Game of Thrones when we were both microwaving things in the kitchen last week.”

One other thing to remember: People probably care less than you think. Most people are probably pretty okay with you being the quiet person who does good work. They’re probably well aware that their jobs require them to have schmoozing skills and that yours doesn’t, and they probably primarily appreciate that you’re good at your job. Yes, that one guy decided you don’t like him, but he’s just one person and he might have concluded that even if you were the world’s loudest extrovert. If everyone else seems reasonably happy with you, don’t be thrown by one person.

Of course, that isn’t much comfort when you’re worried that a lack of relationships is putting you at a disadvantage when it comes to work decisions. So, to get at that piece of it specifically, is there someone at work you have decent rapport with and who’s well-positioned enough to have seen some of this happen? If so, talk to that person and share what you’re worried about. It’s possible that you’ll hear that those decisions didn’t go your way not because you had inadequate social relationships but because of other things entirely (like politics or differing and opaque priorities above you). Or it’s possible that you’ll hear that it’s not that you needed better social relationships but that you needed to be more assertive or frame your argument differently or that you weren’t voicing your concerns to the right person. I see a lot of people frustrated that work decisions don’t go their way, and there are so many explanations for it that aren’t about relationships; it’s often that they’re just getting one of these other elements wrong.

But if you try all of this and you still feel like you don’t fit in well enough to give you a baseline level of happiness at work, nothing says that you need to stay in this particular environment forever. Certainly when you’re working in law, you’re going to encounter more of these types of offices than in other fields, but even in law not every office functions this way. It’s legitimate to decide that this is a quality-of-life issue like any other you might screen for when evaluating jobs in the future, like hours or location.

Alternately, in some cases you can get yourself to the point where you’re so good at your job that people don’t really care that you’re in your office by yourself all the time, because you save their asses when it comes to work stuff. That won’t necessarily work in every office, but it works in the functional ones and it’s not an unreasonable game plan if you love what you do.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 370 comments… read them below }

  1. Cucumberzucchini*

    I don’t have anything to add other than I think the OP has missed her calling as a writer :) I really enjoyed her colorful accounting of the situation!

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I haven’t read AAM’s response yet, but, I was coming here to say almost exactly this!

    2. it will happen*

      I agree!!! And she described ME!!! I am so tired of my supervisor telling me to ‘change’. I have tried to tell him that it is near impossible to change my personality – he just doesn’t care. And then people telling me to ‘get over it’ or ‘you need to smile more’ as they are passing my office (high traffic area) as I am concentrating on getting the 1’s and 0’s in line – ughhh.

        1. UnCivilServant*

          That would not then be an accurate statement. I constantly get told I need to smile more along with several variations on the same theme – always by women.

          If there is a pattern with this individual or set of individuals, that may be worth addressing, but I have to ask – are you sure this group is not the self-appointed ‘happiness brigade’ who tells everyone who does not don the facade of cheer to smile or otherwise change from their innate habits?

    3. C Average*


      And then I clicked over to the article itself, and it featured that insane picture of the woman at the typewriter, and I instantly connected her with the witty description. In my mind the OP is a wonderfully acerbic and self-deprecating semi-curmudgeon with a ’60s Bond girl hair and an actual typewriter.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I looked at that picture and I think it looks like another version of the mainframe desk station that was my first exposure to computing…see this http://imusttravel.ca/wp-admin/mainframe-computer-operator-i16.jpg or this http://i.stack.imgur.com/WTITC.jpg (except the one at my school had a tickertape and a modem as we weren’t hardwired in — the modem wasn’t hardwired, either, you dialed (!) a regular phone and put the handset into two rubber cups for the transmitter and receiver).

  2. AMG*

    I am fairly extroverted–I fall right between extrovert and introvert, so I understand where you are coming from when you see people excelling at the social aspects of being in an office. …But that doesn’t mean they are babbling, nattering, or are chatterboxes, any more than you are disagreeable just because you are introverted. I’m not sure if that’s what you meant, but that’s how I read it. Just something to think about.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I agree. I am a introvert, and even I noticed how the “small talk” was always referred to using terminology with native connotations.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yes. I thought this LW came across as pretty judgmental and superior (they’re over there “playing games,” “babbling,” and “nattering” – yikes; if she’s giving off that vibe to her colleagues, it’s no wonder one of them found her disagreeable).

      I do think there’s an important distinction that might help to OP, between being an introvert and being bad at small talk. I’m an introvert; I process internally; I need a lot of solitude to have enough energy to make it through the day. But I’m outgoing and chatty (and as a result nobody every believes me when I tell them I’m an introvert). Separating these two ideas might help make this feel like something the OP can tackle — she’s not going to stop being an introvert, but she can improve her skill at small talk. I love Alison’s ideas for doing that.

      1. Aspergirl*

        It could be, but let me just say that as an adult woman with Asperger’s, this is 100% how I feel. It’s not judgment even though it may come off that way if I were to state it as honestly as LW has allowed herself to do, it’s confusion and disconnection and how my brain happens to be wired. It makes me great at tasks like LW is good at, I actually do enjoy talking about work and such. But small talk for me is the result of careful study and analyzing how other people do it, then using that analysis to focus on things I can ask about. Correlate table A that coworker Jenny has an infant girl with table B, things to ask about infants. Talk to Jenny. Probably feel a little genuine happiness about the happiness she feels when she tells me the baby is now rolling over. Smile and say that’s great! Provide some fact about my recent life, such as an anecdote about a pet or something else coworker Jenny has responded to well in past.

        Not that LW in inherently also on the autism spectrum (which is not an entirely bad place to be, my therapist calls the place I am on it a different mix of strengths and challenges than most people have), but she might be. Or closer to it than most of her coworkers. For me, pursuing that diagnosis has been about figuring out why I have so much trouble with so many social interactions while being extremely capable in other areas. LW may find it useful to apply her analytical brain to it as a challenge. Or to work with a therapist on it–besides counseling they can provide a less judgmental space to work through stuff.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I thought that the LW’s description of small talk as a memo she didn’t get and wouldn’t have been able to understand anyway was incredibly well-written. It revealed and helped me understand an experience I’ve never had. Super clear and well-written.

          Likewise, your description is revealing to me (and helpful! Although I’m very comfortable with small talk I do still have to sometimes remind myself of certain rules – like, don’t talk for more than 20 seconds without giving a pause to let someone else get a word in; if someone asks me about my weekend, reciprocate; try to remember what someone said to be in our last conversation so I can follow up on it). And your suggestion that the OP apply her strong analytical skills to the problem of small talk (problem as in something to be tackled, not something inherently negative) is a smart one.

          … but what she wrote can be true, and your experience can be true, without her then judging her colleagues in the way she does in her letter. Small talk can be a mystery to her, something she is always going to struggle with and never find useful or enjoyable… but that doesn’t make people who do it comfortably and naturally foolish, overly interested in unimportant things, or whatever other conclusions she is drawing about them.

          1. Aspergirl*

            That’s fair. I read into it some of the extreme frustration I feel (I’m told this is normal for people on the spectrum though one tries not to act on it or let other people know. I do a lot of breathing and literal tongue biting, of which my therapist disapproves.) for things that are so difficult and other people spend a lot of time doing. One should not therefore make a value judgment about the people or the behavior but it can be hard not to when it’s so far outside what your brain can do without a lot of help. Thus it turns into perceived timewasting, especially when at work when we could all be getting our jobs done and not doing this difficult and (to one) low-value activity.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Yeah, I think this kind of judgment is a pretty normal defensive position to take. I know I do it (in other contexts). But we should still fight against it in ourselves! :)

          2. Vicki*

            I once listened to a pair of co-workers, in the breakroom, talking about their experiences with sugared breakfast cereal.

            I’m sorry, but “nattering” is an honest way of describing how some of us feel about some of these conversations.

            1. MarinaZ*

              But it’s still demeaning and judgmental. Your ” honest” opinion can be kept to your self.

            2. a*

              Just because that’s how you feel about it doesn’t mean that it’s objectively the truth. I’m sure that you’ve had conversations about topics that seemed uninteresting or vapid to other people, but that doesn’t mean that you were “babbling” or “nattering.”

            3. Rebecca in Dallas*

              Yes, I am amazed how some people can just talk about nothing!

              I’m always reminded of this great scene in Will and Grace. Will’s dad and his dad’s mistress/girlfriend are over for dinner and to avoid talking about the awkward situation of his dad having a mistress, they just talk about the weather for the entire meal. Grace finally says, “Are we really still talking about the weather?” I feel that way sometimes.

        2. VictoriaHR*

          I agree with Aspergirl. I have Asperger’s as well and I know that sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking we’re better than others. I know I am that way with drivers LOL – like “those sheep, they’re lining up to that entrance and I’m just going to drive around and get out much quicker!” type of thing. That’s not something that I typically say out loud, but I’m saying it now just to show an example.

          I think that’s what’s coming across in the OP’s letter.

        3. aebhel*

          Same here. I can make small talk, but it’s always very calculated and based on a conscious analysis of the people involved… it’s never been natural for me, and I doubt it ever will be.

          I’m a librarian, so ‘bookish geeky weirdo’ is pretty normal in my line of work, but if I worked with a bunch of social butterflies? Yeesh.

        4. Bunny*

          As an adult woman with Aspergers, please let me congratulate you on this beautiful description of conversation stress.


        5. Anonicat*

          Another Aspie here and I was going to say much the same thing. I can DO small talk but it’s an effort and not automatic. But, once I get to know my colleagues I also know points of their personality or interests that we have in common and I can make social gestures with that knowledge. Jane shares my love of punny headlines so when I see one I remember it to share with her when I next see her in the halls. Wakeem is always reading something interesting so I can ask about the latest book if we’re in the lunchroom together.

          Incidentally, a good way to cut down on the amount of small talk you need to make is to eat your lunch outside. I’m upfront with people that our lunchroom is too noisy and stresses my out but you can just as easily say that you just feel so much better and work better after break in the sunshine or a bit of a walk.

          OP – one resource that might be useful is blogs by and forums for people with Aspergers/high functioning autism. People talk a lot about how they manage this kind of thing and there’s a good chance you’ll find a strategy that works for you.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            I’m really loving these neurodiverse perspectives of the workplace! Thanks for sharing, all.

        6. Observer*

          I agree completely with Victoria Nonprofit’s last paragraph to you. But I also wanted to say that your description of how you manage small talk in incredibly useful.

          Thank you!

        7. TheFormerAstronomer*

          I had to check to make sure that I hadn’t submitted this while sleepwalking.


          1. TheFormerAstronomer*

            Argh, my kingdom for an edit button. That comment was supposed to have ‘hello, are you me?!’ on the end of it.

            /relurks for real this time.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I am the exact same way – I am an introvert but I LOVE small talk; I actually don’t think they’re linked at all. I love parties and socializing and meeting people too. For me the difference is just whether or not I start to feel agitated after being in the company of others without a break for extended periods of time, which I definitely do, rather than just interacting with people in general.

        Certainly the LW is describing a non-outgoing personality type, and being somewhat more like myself that I 100% understand it and that it’s totally fine to be different – it’s good to have all types of people for variety – but I don’t think it’s really having to do with introversion per se. I completely agree with the comments on the overall negative and judgmental tone as well – I was really surprised that this wasn’t addressed in the answer.

        To me the letter actually seems like there may be a more underlying misperception of workplace interactions, or something else going on besides just being a quiet person, if making small talk is really THIS aversive and daunting – it seems more like a low level of social anxiety or similar? I think that in most cases, the office dynamic is not some kind of rat race Machiavellian struggle for social dominance that only men and a few women can correctly negotiate, or if this is too extreme an assessment of the situation – at least that it’s not useful to see social interactions solely in terms of power relations.

      3. Lemon Zinger*

        Yes! Those are words my mother uses when she is speaking negatively about someone. She doesn’t like people, and though I get that she’s an introvert, there’s no reason to look down on those who aren’t.

      4. OP*

        Hi All! OP here.

        There is some really useful criticism here about how some of my language is judgmental. This is definitely not the vibe I should be giving off at work!

        Much of that comes from a bit of exhaustion. I wrote this letter coming off the tail end of a key work situation gone awry. And as some other commenters noted downthread, law offices and BigLaw can be their own beast. It’s a lot like working with stock market traders sometimes.

        In many ways I get a kick out of these personalities. They are larger than life for sure. I’ve worked in accounting, academia, customer service, manufacturing, retail, and entertainment, and BigLaw is not like any other culture I’ve ever worked in.

        If you’ve worked with certain kinds of lawyers you know it’s not a stretch (or an insult) to say they think they’ll one day own the world. It takes that kind of hubris to get hired into some firms, let alone ever make partner one day without being weeded out. They have to think that way. It’s both charming and aggravating. These are dazzling, problematic people. I live inside a TV show at times, which can be a ton of fun as well as ‘a ton of fun.’ Many of the partners literally still make deals on the golf course or the boat.

        Nonetheless, if judgmental feelings are coming off me at work, I need to look at that. I am a bit burned out and there’s a really good chance some of the people I work with pick up on me feeling miffed and tired and bitchy. Which absolutely does more harm than good. Like many have said, no one likes feeling judged. I have work to do there.

        Something super surprising and really helpful here are all the comments from people identifying on the autism spectrum. Oh, man. Aspergirl, you talked about correlating the table of “this co-worker has a baby” next to the table of “things to ask about babies” and pivoting them until a question forms and a conversation can take place – yes, this!

        You guys get me. Work conversations feel like math to me, like what algebra must have looked like written in Arabic to the first Europeans who ever encountered it.

        I could very well have some autism spectrum traits, both strengths and weaknesses, and should probably be checked out. This may be better terminology than introversion and extroversion and is something I’ll look into.

        Despite all of this, I do have friends and loved ones who know me well, who enjoy my company, and whom I converse with freely and happily. I spent hours in their company this weekend, and came away refreshed and happy. Probably not surprisingly, many of them are geeky just like me!

        Thanks everyone, both those who identified some harsh tones underlying my words, and those who said they sometimes feel the same way. Both have been a great help.

        1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

          Hey OP :)

          I just wanted to say that austism and introversion for that matter really don’t mean you don’t have friends/can’t have friends and people who love you and that you love back :)

        2. CM*

          There’s a book called “How to Talk to Anyone” that might be useful for you.

          Another thing that helped me was to realize that small talk serves an important purpose in building relationships. A few minutes of “hot out there, isn’t it” and “some game last night” can turn a coworker from “intimidating partner Bob” to “Bob, who I can ask a work-related question without anxiety.”

        3. Serafina*

          I feel for you, OP, I really do, as one introvert to another. (Fistbump) And I definitely admire your willingness to examine your attitudes and perspective. I’m a lawyer who’s spent years in law firms full of extroverted, talkative people, and man, it can be EXHAUSTING just trying to decide whether to chime in or stay out and wondering what your peers will think whichever action you choose. It does take practice and a fair amount of “faking it” especially when I’m really not in the mood for chitchat but get the impression that I’m being the odd man out. I keep stock questions in my head or try to come up with one based on whatever topic of conversation is going on (“who’s [sports team’s] big rival this season?” or “I haven’t watched [tv show], it sounds good!” or “wow, [vacation] sounds great! I’ll have to keep it in mind!”) Or just the good ol’, time-honored, smile-and-nod, chuckle when everyone else does, look interested even if you’re not.

          Sometimes if an animated discussion goes on near my desk, I’ll keep working, but laugh when the others do or occasionally look up and grin. If there’s a comment a la “hey, Sera’s eavesdropping,” I just laugh and say, “Hey, i’m multitasking!”

          I inevitably put my foot in my mouth on occasion or feel awkward – it happens to us all, just try not to dwell on it. People like you and I will never be as good at random socializing as others, but we don’t have to be perfect at it to project an aura of being engaged or friendly. I also plan as much “alone time” at home after hours as possible, just to recharge from being surrounded by people all day during the week.

        4. Cathy*

          It’s not pointless nattering, but building up valuable social capital… Making human connections to people makes them feel valued, which in turn makes them more inclined to respond positively to you. Maybe try making it a points-based game with yourself: 1 point for eye contact and a smile/hello to someone, 5 points for asking them a generic question (hi joe, how’s it going? How was your weekend?), 10 points for asking a personal question (how was your trip to Iceland?). If they ask you a question, you answer and ask them a question in return. Picture a thread going back and forth, weaving a relationship that you can eventually use when you need back up on something.

          I am someone who is not naturally talkative or good at small talk either, but I worked in an office with people who were even worse, and it can really make you feel terrible when you get on an elevator with someone and it seems like they are pained at even having to say “good morning” to you.

        5. LBK*

          a) I just want to echo the comment from above that both the letter and this follow up are so well-written.

          b) I know it may feel out of place in the legal world, but maybe you can kind of indulge your geekiness to help you get more into the social groove of your office. I’m very similar in that I hate small talk and am terrible at carrying on conversations where I feel like I’m forcing myself to fill up space, but if you get me on a subject I care about I could literally talk for hours. I’m lucky that TV is one of my niches (side note: if anyone wants to discuss season 3 of BoJack Horseman, please meet me in the open thread on Saturday) which is a generally socially acceptable topic anyway, but it might not actually be bad to be known as “the ____ person,” where ____ is something you care a lot about. It will give people a go-to subject to engage you on when you talk, which will help you stay engaged in the conversation since you’ll actually have things to say instead of just talking about the weather.

          So maybe next time someone asks you a generic small talk “what’s going on?” question, be honest and talk about something that you find interesting, even if it seems like a weird or overly nerdy subject to discuss at work. I think you’ll be surprised at how receptive people are to it because it’s always interesting to hear people talk about stuff they’re passionate about, even if it’s something a little odd. I’m thinking here of smallbutmighty’s comment from a letter Alison posted about presenting without coming off like an “eccentric professor” – will post the link in a reply.

    3. JMegan*

      I agree with you, and also with Ellen N below. There is definitely a disconnect between the language that OP uses to describe the behaviour (nattering), and her acknowledgement that the behaviour has value (which is the reason she wrote in.) I think that’s a great place to start, by changing the way she describes the behaviour – words have power, and you can definitely use them to shape your own attitudes as well as those of other people.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interesting — I read that more as the OP just being colorful in her descriptions (like what Cucumberzucchini said above), but enough people are picking up on this that I’m curious to hear from the OP if she thinks there’s something to that!

      1. Serafina*

        I am intensely introverted and hate small talk passionately, yet even I picked up on whiffs of contempt in the LW’s tone. Different people interact in different ways and have different comfort levels, and part of his/her problem is that he/she seems to look down on that form of communication/relationship building. He/she may find comfort levels improving after losing the disapproving attitude.

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          EXACTLY this. My work partner and I are both introverted and prefer to communicate via email. However, she really dislikes people talking in the office, and takes it very personally when others are interacting around her. I admire those people for being good conversationalists, and I try to mimic some of what they do to make my own interpersonal connections more genuine.

          It’s all about your attitude, as much as I hate to say that.

          1. Serafina*

            Just so. Every individual is going to encounter aspects of working life that they dislike. I loathe face-to-face and phone interaction even in a purely-work setting. I hate the parts of the investigative process (I’m a lawyer) that require questioning people, hate deposing people, hate the questioning process of trials. I have colleagues who loooove it – and hate writing papers, doing research, or actually sorting through the written material, while that’s the part I like best. Neither type is “wrong” or “better.” It’s just good when you get both types on a team.

        2. it will happen*

          I probably would have used the same type of language – although I would never say it to coworkers etc. Being an introvert I really have a difficult time with the hundreds of hours I see wasted jabbering on and on about things that have nothing to do with what our paycheck is about.

          Just as extroverts cannot understand us / introverts have the same lockup with them I suppose. I don’t act on it or say these things – but I have thought it to myself when my co-worker is on her 12th description of her weekend on Monday and finally gets to her work at 1:00 pm.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Same here, especially the part about thinking it, but not saying it out loud.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        It was like a neon sign to me. He/she kept calling what I consider normal conversation to be a “game” and that he/she is above it but feels like they have to play it.

        1. aebhel*

          I didn’t find it that way at all. If you’re not good at small talk, you don’t enjoy it, and it isn’t part of your job, it’s frustrating to feel like you have to do it all the time just to have a reasonably civil relationship with your coworkers.

          I get that to people who don’t have trouble with this it’s like ‘but they’re just talking to each other like normal people’, but for people like me–and, I’m guessing, the OP–it feels like a frustrating and pointless status game.

        2. Anonicat*

          Here’s the thing: if you have ASD it DOES look like a game no-one has given you the rules to yet everyone expects you to know. I have just been diagnosed at the age of 34 and I’ve spent my whole life wondering why I always feel mildly excluded. We love you neurotypicals, but you’re like a different fricken species sometimes.

          1. Anonicat*

            I should add, of course we all have to learn to live with each other’s differences, but feeling a lot of frustration is not unreasonable either. It’s not like OP is expressing their frustration to their colleagues.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            But the OP was still using words with negative connotations to describe people who enjoy small talk. I’m assuming you don’t like it when people use negative terms to describe people who are not neurotypical. Why can’t I want the same courtesy? I often feel like I don’t fit in, but I don’t vilify the people I don’t click with – I just chalk it up to different personalities.

        3. Marina*

          I like and think I am good at “normal conversation”, but it is absolutely a game. There are rules, if you follow them well you get social points, if you don’t follow them you get weird looks. Small talk at work isn’t usually genuine interaction between two people honestly wanting to know more about each other, it’s a social smoothing activity.

          Good news is, because it is a game, you can get better at it just like you can get better at golf or chess.

        4. Introvert*

          Let’s be real it is an obligatory game. And those that are skilled and sucessfull are rewarded while those who struggle are punished (subtly, and or overtly). Through ostracization, cliques, first nominated for a “layoff”. It tends to make you bitter when you realize people care more about bulls hit appearances than consistent dedication and hard work.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        It’s like a neon sign saying “I am contemptuous of people who know how to hold a conversation”. Ugh, everything keeps crashing on me here today! I am having such a difficult time commenting.

      4. Observer*

        Yes, she was being colorful. But there are many ways to be colorful. The OP chose quite negative descriptions, and she (he?) is too good of a writer to make it easy to believe that she couldn’t come up with any other colorful descriptions.

    5. A.*

      I think one of the unfortunate side effects to the (good!) awareness of introverts and their needs is that in building introverts up–in so far as reporting on how they tend to be thoughtful, innovative, highly intelligent, etc–is that extroverts get dragged down by association. A lot of introverts feel like they’ve gotten a bum deal with modern work culture heavily favoring extrovertism, but the response shouldn’t be to assume that all extroverts are brainless corporate cogs who get by primarily on their ability to fit in society’s cultural perception of excellence rather than merit (NOT saying the LW feels this way, but that it’s an increasingly common sentiment in general). All types bring all kinds of value!

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Preach! I’ve noticed this phenomenon too. The pendulum has almost swung too far back in the other direction, to the point that “extroverts=louts” has become a fairly common association that people make. Hopefully it’ll balance out somewhere sensible eventually!

        My book club recently had a veeeeery interesting discussion about the book Quiet that really highlighted this gap. I’m an ambivert (strong need for both alone time and social time) so I could see both sides, but there was a big difference in opinion between the strong extroverts and the strong introverts in the group.

        1. A Cita*

          Another ambivert here! Fits well with my general need to disrupt binary oppositions. :)

      2. Lissa*

        Yes! I picked up on this too in the letter, and related to a lot of the “introvert power!” that’s been going around on the Internet in the past few years. It’s good to a point, but I know I’ve been kind of “ouch” at some of the stuff I’ve seen, and I don’t even identify as an extrovert (more in between, I guess. I am really awful at small talk but enjoy being around people and get antsy if I spend too much time alone, go figure).

      3. AnotherAnon*

        It’s like dealing with fat-shaming by resorting to thin-shaming. Building yourself up by tearing others down. It’s a common defense mechanism, may be entirely subconscious, and it’s understandable when someone doesn’t have the skills to protect themselves any other way – but that doesn’t make it right. Even if it’s something you try to keep inside and never say aloud, it’ll probably come out in subtle ways, and it’s not good for your mental health either – just less bad than feeling worthless and broken.

    6. Turtle Candle*

      I’m a hardcore introvert, although one who is pretty good at small talk (through deliberately setting out to learn the skill–turns out it is a learnable skill) and that stood out to me too. Nattering, chatty cathy, babbling, chatterboxes, jostling, one-upsmanship, game-playing: none of those are neutral descriptions.

      I don’t mean this to say “you’re a terrible judgmental person” to the LW: I think they sound frustrated and at sea more than anything else. But thinking of it differently is almost certainly the first step. I mean, I’d say the same thing to someone who was like, “I know some people love sitting like a bump on a log dragging their eyes repetitively across a static page, but I just don’t like reading. How can I learn to like to passively sit there absorbing someone else’s questionable thoughts through my eyeballs?” The first step would be to frame it differently.

      I approached this (again, as a hardcore introvert) as a valuable and worthwhile skill that would both ease my path in life and make me more useful in the workplace and more comfortable socially. That gave me an incentive beyond what “ugh, I guess I have to learn this stupid skill that shouldn’t be valuable but for some reason is” might get me.

      1. Al Lo*

        It’s interesting — my mom is an exceptional connector, but it’s not a default state for her. She probably lies somewhere in the ambivert range, but has practiced over the years and is a delightful person to talk to, as a strange (I assume). She can find a connection with almost anyone — a similar neighborhood, a friend of a friend, a shared hobby, or whatever, and she cares very much about the answers.

        I asked her once about it, and she said that she learned it by watching her dad, who was much more extroverted, admiring the way he connected with people, and practicing until it became second nature.

        So, I’ve grown up seeing it as a very learnable skill, and to me, it’s about making connections that are deeper than small talk. I’m not an expert at it yet (I still like talking about myself way too much!), but those skills can still be learned.

      2. CM*

        Love your example.
        I also had to deliberately learn small talk, and still silently congratulate myself on a successful small-talk conversation.

    7. Purest Green*

      After reading the letter several times, I think it’s just the OP’s writing style. The behaviors OP lists – babbling, nattering, one-upsmanship, etc. – are more descriptive terms to help illustrate that OP finds “social interaction taxing” and aren’t necessarily commentary about the coworkers themselves.

      That’s just how I took it.

      1. Ellen N.*

        The dictionary definitions of the words the poster used are negative.


        I think it would help if both introverts and extroverts tried to imagine being in each others’ shoes. From what I’ve heard from introverts, social conversations sap their energy and make it difficult to work because they are tired. If an introvert at work explained this to me I would be happy to leave him/her alone. Conversely, when extroverts connect with each other at work it is not a waste of time. Communication about each others’ lives makes it easier for us to communicate about work. Examples: If I know that a coworker is having a health issue, I’ll offer to pitch in with her/his workload and he/she will do the same for me. If I know that a coworker is having family problems, I’ll understand why he/she is distracted and know that he/she may need more support at work and he/she will do the same for me.

        1. Purest Green*

          I’m aware of the connotation of those words, but, again, attributed it to the writing style and the OP adding “color,” as AAM stated.

    8. Marillenbaum*

      Yeah, that rubbed me the wrong way to. I’m an introvert: all that means is that I recharge best alone. It doesn’t mean I’m shy, or that I’m bad at small talk, or don’t like conversations! It might take me a little longer to become comfortable, or I might tire more easily. While I’m glad that things like Susan Cain’s “Quiet” have made it easier for people to talk about introversion and understand it, I also believe we’ve gotten unnecessarily snarky about people who aren’t that way. It neglects the fact that: 1) as humans, we are all social animals to some degree, and 2) there’s no such thing as a “pure” introvert or extrovert; it’s more of a continuum, and it also depends on the individual, the company, and the social setting. I’m going to get way more fed up at a gathering of male baseball fans than I am with my coed book club, for instance.

      1. Geneva*

        Exactly! Being an introvert doesn’t automatically mean a person is timid, aloof, disinterested, standoffish, rude, or secretly planning world domination. For example, I used to work at a nonprofit where most of my colleagues were extroverts. They would all eat lunch together in the office several times a week while I would eat alone. I needed that quiet time to reset my energy for the afternoon, but my boss said leaving the office looked suspicious. So I quit going out and my mental health suffered for it. I also had a coworker accuse me of being secretive in meetings during moments when I honestly had nothing to contribute.

        1. Anja*

          At my old job my colleagues would go out for lunch most days of the week. I told them that I’d rather go home and be myself – or be with my dog once I got her – than spend time with them. Delivering the statement with a big smile and continuing to contribute to the social chats during the rest of the day let me get away with it.

    9. SRB*

      Yeah “small talk” is just a small interaction. Some people can’t seem to do that without nattering, but that doesn’t mean it has to be.
      As an introvert, I’ve always liked small talk. It’s easy and digestible. It can be ended whenever. You can get to know tiny details about someone without having to ask really invasive questions. It’s low conflict – no one can judge you over your opinion about the weather! And occasionally it leads to more substantive conversations. Maybe you find someone else is just as into Pokemon Go as you are, and now have yourself a daily walking buddy. ;)

      1. Ellie H.*

        Same!!! I don’t understand the constant association between introversion and hating small talk that you hear over and over again – I think they actually go together much more, you described it really well as a small interaction that’s easy and you can end whenever. I really, really don’t want to have a personal or serious conversation with someone I don’t know very well and feel comfortable with, so small talk is ideal. It’s not being shallow, just reserved.

      2. Sketchee*

        I’m also an introvert who loves small talk! You can pretty much say whatever you want, find common interest, and walk away whenever. Like Alison mentioned, it’s all about finding what I’m truly interested in.

        I love pop culture, so having a person who just talks about a show at work is fun.

        In fact, I would not be surprised if many of the people described in the letter were also introverts.

      3. A. Nonymous*

        That is exactly how I feel! I love that I can just do nice, simple, surface level conversations and find out little things that are important to those around me. Sometimes I’ll even drop off something that reminded me of a coworker or leave a note for them. Just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean that I can’t be kind to others or that I’m thoughtless.

      4. CM*

        I think it’s not so much about introversion as having a certain amount of social anxiety.

    10. Mando Diao*

      I feel this. In general, I’m not a fan of the “extrovert” and “introvert” labels, as most people fall somewhere in the middle (though I do understand that people who are very much on the introverted side of the spectrum tend to find more representation on the internet), and I admit to blanching a bit when these conversations turn in the direction of viewing introversion as something fragile that needs to be accommodated, or as if being chatty and a touch loud is a sign of bad character. People are trying to engage the OP in friendly conversation. I’m not willing to view that as a bad thing, and I’d encourage OP to adjust and open up before giving her advice as to how to shut it down.

      1. LawBee*

        my understanding has always been that it has to do with where you get your personal energy – are you recharged by being around other people, or by being alone?

        1. Mando Diao*

          That’s not how people colloquially use the term though, and that’s not how OP is using it.

    11. pomme de terre*

      It’s one thing to be introverted, especially if you are very good at what you do so the bosses are happy to let you . But her descriptions of people who operate differently seem outright mean. Maybe she was writing from a place of frustration, but yikes, there was so much disdain in that letter.

  3. Ellen N.*

    I am an extrovert who finds getting to know my coworkers one of the most fun parts of work. From reading your letter, I think that your problem isn’t so much being an introvert; it’s being judgemental of extroverts. You refer to your coworkers socializing with each other as babbling and nattering, yet some of the subjects they are discussing have significance to them (their children, pets, weekend activities). We extroverts are aware that not everyone is comfortable with conversation, but we do appreciate being perceived as different, not lesser.

    1. Heather*

      I was going to say the same thing! You say you don’t want to be perceived as disagreeable, but that’s definitely how you’re coming off here. Extroverts aren’t another species, and extroverts are not by default lazy/unintelligent/misinformed/incompetent and coasting on their good social skills.

    2. Anon4This1*

      If you are an extrovert who realizes that not everyone is comfortable with this level of personal engagement, you are a rarity. I am an extreme introvert (who fakes it well for sake of paying my mortgage), but I can assure you that plenty of extroverts exhibit judgmental behavior towards introverts. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been questioned about how happy I can really be doing something by myself all the way down to being called “weird” for enjoying my down-time. An introvert will typically keep their judgment to themselves; in my experience, extroverts want to talk to me (and others) about my “introversion problem”.

      Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking talks about this in the opening chapters.

      1. OhNo*

        To be fair, I think the judgement goes both ways, and I’ve seen plenty of people on both sides that are open about their distaste.

      2. it will happen*

        I find this to be so true. I work with a TON of extroverts and am called out on it all the time – people are always trying to ‘fix’ me.

      3. Christopher Tracy*

        An introvert will typically keep their judgment to themselves; in my experience, extroverts want to talk to me (and others) about my “introversion problem”.

        This has been my experience, especially at my current company. I can’t tell you how many people have essentially told me to start acting like somebody else, somebody more outgoing, because they’re uncomfortable with my silence. It’s annoying as hell and of course I tell them no, I’m going to continue to be me and you will deal. I’m not asking you to come sit in a corner with me and read – stop caring so much about how I operate because I certainly don’t care how you operate. People act as if I’m being an introvert at them, and it’s weird.

    3. Vera*

      This is how I know I’m an introvert!! Or at least introverted at work. I am *so* uninterested in knowing anything about my coworkers. Like OP, I have to work really, really hard to feign interest so that it doesn’t hold me back.

      1. Isabel C.*

        Yes but more so: I would rather not get promoted if the price of promotion is mandatory regular chattiness with co-workers. (I have eyed otherwise-good-sounding job openings, seen that one of the duties is “building team morale”, and noped the hell on out.)

        I’ve been at offices where I did enjoy people’s company, but it really has to be an organic thing, and left to my own devices I’m really just fine coming in, doing my work in silence, and going home.

  4. UnCivilServant*

    As an introvert, I read the advice about the social entounter questions and realized I’d hate to be on the receiving end of such inquiries of a non-business nature. Then I realized I’m already on the recieving end and I do hate it. Example: I recently moved. I mentioned it at work because I needed time off to physically relocate. Now that it is done, it is a non-issue. But people still ask “how’s the house?” I’ve taken to answering all such inquiries with “It’s still standing” to quash the discussion.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        True, it does sound like that is the dominant personality type in that office.

        Though I wonder if there are any other less naturally outgoing people who are also faking it mixed ing.

    1. Overeducated*

      Really? Wow. If I knew one of my coworkers was taking time off to move, I’d say something like “how did the move go,” not because I care (I don’t really) or because I’m extroverted (I’m really not), but because by checking in on a major thing that just happened in their lives, I am showing a very minimal level of concern and interest in them as a human instead of a work machine. At least try not to be offended by your coworkers asking stuff like that, they probably are just trying to be nice and don’t particularly want to hear about how many boxes you have left any more than you want to talk about it.

      1. OhNo*

        Part of the issue with questions like this is that when you have multiple people who only know one thing about you (that you moved recently), you’re going to get the exact same question from every single one of them. It’s irritating to you because you’ve already heard the same question ten million times, but for each one of them it’s a totally new topic.

        I dunno if that helps with making it more palatable, but once I started thinking of it this way I found it a lot less irritating. A bonus for me is I get to tell the same silly story thirty times without having to think of something new and clever to say, which really helps quell my social interaction anxiety.

        1. Overeducated*

          I guess I just don’t get the annoyance. “How was the move?” “It went smoothly, thanks! How are you today?” “I’m good!” Boom. You’re done. Your coworkers have performed minimal interest in your life, you have performed politeness and redirected the conversation with minimal interest in theirs, and now you can all go back to work. Have that interaction ten times and it’s still barely over a minute of small talk.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I think they’re asking the same thing repeatedly day after day, unless I’ve misread.

          2. Clara*

            Ten interruptions to my work. Ten unnecessary, pointless mini-conversations that achieve nothing. Ten annoying interactions that frustrate me.

            If you are “performing” your interest, why even bother?

            1. The Rizz*

              It’s basically expressing ‘hey I am a non-threatening person who has slightly more than the bare minimum of interest in your well being, FYI.’ And knowing that your co-worker is a ‘non-threatening person who has slightly more than the bare minimum of interest in your well being’ is the difference between going to work with other people and going to work with robots or machines.

              To be totally blunt, heaven forbid there was another 9/11. Do you think your co-workers will remember to check your cube before they evacuate if you literally avoid all interaction with them?

              1. Mando Diao*

                I agree 100%. I just don’t see how ten 15-second interactions in an 8-hour workday somehow creates this massive burden, unless there’s something else at play besides general introversion. Every Monday I show Nancy my new nail polish color because that’s about the only overlapping interest we have. I’d hate to think that I was creating some increasingly miserable work environment for her by taking 5 seconds to engage another human being in conversation.

                1. TheFormerAstronomer*

                  Depends on what I’m doing. If I’m debugging code then interrupting my train of thought to ask me something mundane is going to get you either a snarl or a meltdown, depending on how badly it’s going…

                2. Isabel C.*

                  With TheFormerAstronomer: if we’re both getting lunch from the fridge at the same time, small talk is cool,* but interrupting me when I’m doing something else (even reading during my lunch break) is really not.

                  * As long as it really *is* the fifteen-second kind of deal. It’s never come up for me at work, thank God, but one of the reasons I will never again have roommates as long as I can help it is the whole thing where you want to go make dinner, but you can hear Sansa in the kitchen, and if you run into her you’re not getting out of there in less than half an hour. NOOOOOOO.

                3. Observer*

                  If you notice most people talk about having these interactions not when people are obviously deep in something.

                  In my experience, people who chit chat either do it as opportunity comes up (eg at the copier, when passing by and you are not obviously busy, etc.) or to soften an interruption that happens for another reason. eg “Hi! How was your weekend? Nice. I actually have a problem with the new teapot design. Can we go over that?”

              2. Observer*

                Forget 9/11. If the office ever had to be evacuated for ANY reason, wouldn’t you want someone to notice that you were still in the office? And check (or ask someone to check) for you? Or even just make sure that you need to get out of the office NOW?

            2. Observer*

              It’s not pointless. It’s saying that “I know you are not a work machine. I also know that you are adjusting to a major life event.” Yes, it’s 10 people, but they can’t do this by proxy.

              You may not care if people see you as a die cast cog in the office machine. But most people don’t want to feel that way.

      2. UnCivilServant*

        I’m okay with being regarded as a work machine in social interactions at work.

        In a lot of cases regarding my example, there’s this unspoken undercurrent that implies that moving from renting to owning should be some sort of big, emotional deal instead of a cold fiscal calculation.

        While I have a brusk tone, I’m still having difficulty grasping how it became regarded as nice to ask a question you don’t want the answer to of someone who’d rather not answer it. I don’t mean that statement to be rude, I just kept coming up blank with a polite way to phrase it.

        1. Overeducated*

          Sometimes it’s not about the content. Someone below recommended the book “Watching the English,” which I think described small talk as “social lubrication,” helping to smooth interactions where you don’t have a close personal relationship but don’t want to act 100% instrumental because that’s not how we handle most interactions in our society apart from paid customer service. Maybe you personally want to act 100% instrumental with your coworkers, but it can hurt their perception of you to flout social conventions that way.

        2. pomme de terre*

          “I’m still having difficulty grasping how it became regarded as nice to ask a question you don’t want the answer to of someone who’d rather not answer it.”

          The ask-er may be sincere in his interest when he asks a question, and he also can’t read your mind and know that you’d rather not answer it. (The exception to the latter would be people that you’ve worked with for a long time, who should pick up on your dislike of non-work talk.)

        3. Amy G. Golly*

          Look at it as performing the basic minimum labor of maintaining a society.

          Yes, so humans have been at this society business for thousands of years and things are pretty much set. You’re not in danger of being left behind to starve when your tribe moves on to the winter grounds. But that’s where small talk evolved from: a complex dance of pro-social behaviors that over time assures everyone that “yep, we’re all part of the same group, and we’re all going to cooperate (to an extent) in favor of the greater good”. Small talk is not “meaningless”; in a broad sense, it just carries a different meaning than the actual content of the conversation.

          And yeah, some people enjoy it, and some people get more out of it than others. But at the very least, every time you have this conversation:

          CoWorker: How’s the house?
          UnCivilServant: Good, thanks. I’m just about unpacked. Have a good one!

          You can pat yourself on the back and say, “I’ve done my bit for the course of human civilization.” (Which you may or may not see as an incentive. I leave it up to you. ;)

  5. Dani X*

    I am not so sure that your lack of upward mobility/people listening to you is a lack of small talk vs them realizing that you don’t think very well of them. I notice that you put all the people who get ahead into a category (males who are looking to own the world some day) that is pretty derogatory. You don’t need to word those thoughts for people to realize you look down on them. Try looking at your coworkers as individuals and not stereotypes – that will probably help.

    1. Anon4This1*

      In fairness to the letter-writer, those who chose to be career attorneys, particularly in BigLaw, can definitely give off that categorical vibe. There have been studies indicating that attorneys, particularly those drawn to litigation, tend to be a particular personality type. BigLaw is not for the sensitive (or those who enjoy free time), and I think OP’s description of the people with whom she works isn’t unfair for the legal industry. (I am NOT saying that all attorneys are jerks or not worthy of respect — I work with some really great people, but they are often not easy on an interpersonal level.)

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Spot on!!! Alison’s advice is great, but attorneys can be a whole different animal. The ones I have dealt with (I don’t work in BigLaw) have been very self-assured/borderline arrogant individuals and making small talk with them for even a short time was exhausting because there wasn’t a lot of give and take. Virtually everything came back around to them in some way, shape or form…..their opinion, what they were doing, which political candidate they supported, and all of this was in a manner as to make them appear superior and you inferior. I LOVE small talk with virtually everyone but I avoid attorneys like the plague!

        Based on the personality type the OP has described, I wonder if this is part of the challenge as well, thereby making something difficult for OP seem almost impossible.

        1. LawBee*

          I am a lawyer, and I generally hate talking to other lawyers for exactly that reason. BigLaw breeds them, it seems, but you also see it in really successful solo practices or small firms with only a few names on the door. Ugh and ugh. I am not deferential by nature – money and titles don’t impress me, although I acknowledge the hard work that went into getting them.

          I am really lucky that the partners at my firm also hate that kind of braggadocio.

        1. Harriet*

          As an introvert who has worked in many law offices, I second this – and Alison, I’m so happy you suggested looking for a place that is a better fit. My last firm was full of aggressive, type A, self-aggrandising men and was a bit of a boys club…I’m ok at small talk after many years of practice, though I’ve never loved it, but I really struggled to connect with the key players in that firm and the coffee point was always a performance for me.

          However my current place is totally different, and I love it. It is a successful firm with interesting work. It is more prestigious than my last firm. And the majority of the lawyers are socially skilled extroverts… but they are also nice, kind, and genuinely interested in people – and their business development success is down to that. I feel much more comfortable here, and I have genuinely connected with so many more people as a result. And I never feel like they’re judging me for being quieter than others. There is hope!

          1. Outside Earthling*

            As an introverted litigation attorney I completely agree that there is not a huge variance in terms of typical personality type in big commercial firms, at least in litigation practice. Firms seem to screen for a particular type to ensure cultural fit, and extreme self-confidence bordering on arrogance is very common. I work in an in-house legal team and we have a panel of law firms we instruct so we are on the receiving end of a quite a lot of business development entertaining. The practised schmoozers leave me cold. I am more naturally drawn to people with whom I can have a real conversation, even if it takes a while to break the ice. I was at a dinner recently where a partner recounted at length an ‘amusing’ anecdote about the pains she goes to ensure that her two gardeners never know of each other’s existence. I wanted to weep.

            And of course as a client of legal services I love the detail oriented, careful and methodocal approach described by the OP. This is often what I am really looking for when I instruct a legal team, or at least I want those qualities to feature highly in the service they provide.

          2. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

            I’m definitely introverted, but enjoy small talk in small doses – but I found myself nodding along a bit with OP’s description of the own-the-world types. I despise arrogant people, especially if they’re also loud, show-offy, and back-slapping “bro” or “aggressive salesman” types. Maybe if OP worked with people who didn’t have that sort of grating personality, she’d find it easier to interact with them.

  6. themmases*

    I am an introvert who is still just OK at small talk… But I felt like I clawed my way to just OK.

    The biggest thing I would say is, set aside the idea that there is something stupid about small talk, the comments that make up small talk, or the people who engage in it. It will be very hard to take an interest in people if you think of them as natterers. Basically they have a hobby that you know a little about, but don’t share (a great topic for small talk, btw).

    It will also be very hard to hold up your half of the conversation if you think the types of comments that make up small talk are stupid and make you sound stupid– like trying to dance when you’re paralyzed with self-consciousness.

    Listen more closely to others making small talk. People who stand in the kitchen and make comments at each other like “Great weather this weekend!” and “How are the kids?” are not received by each other as having said something inane. Neither will you be if you join in. With practice, you can let go of the idea that you sound stupid or shallow when you engage in small talk– what you’re actually doing is being friendly without getting inappropriately deep or personal with your coworkers. In the meantime, give yourself permission to sound a little dumb or awkard to *yourself*.

    1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      Yeah, this is how it struck me, too. Small talk is not, by definition, stupid or inane or pointless or any of those things. It’s just a way of forging social connections. And I wouldn’t exactly go overboard calling myself an extrovert, but I talk to my coworkers and acquaintances like that because I like to, and I’m genuinely interested in their lives–I really, truly, honestly do want to know what they did with their weekend, or how their kids are doing, or how their hobby of gathering river weeds and drying them and weaving them into charming hats is going. I don’t labour under the impression that everyone is as interested as I am, but it’s by no means stupid or shallow to ask things like that!

      None of it has to be witty, snappy, TV-level chatty. It’s more than OK to just chit-chat with someone about their weekend plans without it being incisive banter. The gesture means more than the words, in this case–the willingness to be social and appear interested in other people’s lives is more important than the exact words that are being used.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Exactly! I find that small talk is a valuable social interaction for me: I rarely feel comfortable with sharing deeply personal things, but I like having low-level positive interactions (bulwark against the JerkBrain saying that everyone hates me): I’d love to talk about your weekend/my knitting project/ the new Star Trek movie (and my bae John Cho!) I don’t like exposing my innermost self, and small talk, well handled, is the way of proving you are someone I could trust with those deeper things if I so chose.

    3. A Cita*

      Yeah, building relationships is just that–building. It isn’t one extraordinary experience that binds two people together. And it’s usually not some cosmic serendipity that brings you together to your friendship soul mate where every interaction is super interesting and meaningful.

      It’s one small interaction at time, like bricks, that show you care about the person with a modicum of interest in interacting with them in some small way. Slowly building up, one interaction brick at a time, until you have a solid foundation on which you can build other, more meaningful interactions (and for LW’s case, to build political capital to help get their projects endorsed or their voice heard). Small talk is not meaningless. It helps to think about is as small interactions that work, over time, to build into something meaningful.

      (p.s. totes OT but I really don’t like the “Dear Boss” in that link. maybe it’s just me.)

          1. A Cita*

            Ha! Now that would actually be funny!
            And all the letters would start with: Dear Bruce.

        1. A Cita*

          I kind of like: Ask Alison. I think it’s less the “Ask a boss” and more the “Dear Boss” at the start of the letters. Maybe it’s just me and my weirdness (I’m sure it is), but it feels yucky, too deferential like they are my boss and not just a boss.

          1. Isabel C.*

            It just reminds *me* of the probably-fake Jack the Ripper letter, but that’s my true-crime/Alan Moore comics weirdness. :P

    4. Alton*

      I think it can help, too, to recognize that some of this is a compatibility thing. Sometimes you’re going to work with people who honestly talk too much or whom you have nothing in common with, and small talk is going to be more challenging in those cases. That doesn’t mean that interacting with coworkers is always going to be like that.

      If I get along with someone or find them interesting, I don’t mind hearing a bit about their weekend. If we have nothing in common or they’re the type to drone on about topics I have no interest in, I’m going to keep a little more polite distance. Being good at small talk doesn’t mean you have to enjoy conversations you find dull. Small talk can be either genuine bursts of conversation or polite but distanced acknowledgment depending on the relationship.

    5. Mando Diao*

      These are good tips. I’d also suggest that the OP stop viewing it as a serious thing in the context of humanity. It’s just people saying stupid crap because they want to say stupid crap. Surely there’s something silly that OP would like to say to another human being? Why not say it to these people?

    6. CrisA*

      Honestly, one of my biggest problems with small talk is that I don’t have a spouse, I don’t have kids, I don’t have pets, and my weekend plans usually involve sitting around at home reading a book. I just rather quickly run out of things to answer questions with that don’t amount to “nope, still spending 99% of my time alone with zero plans!”

  7. Cambridge Comma*

    I’m also an introvert without a natural gift for small talk.
    But I became better at it when I stopped looking down on people who did it and were good at it.
    The way OP writs about Chatty Cathys makes me think that she isn’t there yet.
    It’s a way of connecting with others at work and being part of the team, and is a part of the job that you need to find a way to do.
    Finding a way to let others talk to you also works.

  8. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I’m picking up on the same judgmental vibe as other commenters. Your letter discusses who these people are at great length, meaning you’ve been observing them quite closely — but the fact is, you haven’t actually talked to any of them for any appreciable length of time. You can’t possibly know that they really are as shallow as you’re making them sound. You also sound like you don’t respect them very much. I wonder if there’s some projecting going on here: you’re spending an awful lot of time watching them and drawing conclusions, so you think they’re doing that to you. Newsflash: they’re not. They’re not talking about the “weird introvert” anywhere near as often as you think they are.

    Or at least, that’s one opinion. Armchair psychology isn’t useful, but real psychology is. I don’t think it would hurt for you to find a reputable therapist/career counselor to speak to in private about your fears. You may find that a lot of them are unfounded, as well as find the skills you’ve asked Allison for.

    1. Anon attorney*

      I find myself getting increasingly irritated with the whole discourse around introversion and extraversion. My understanding is that personality typing is meant to describe preference and not behavior. I am “an introvert” and I consider myself very sociable, including office small talk; the introversion doesn’t mean I can’t do that, simply that alone time recharges me whereas people time energises my extraverted friends. Office chit chat is a skill that can be learned. In my experience however technically good you are at your job, if people feel uncomfortable around you and you don’t have at least some strong relationships then you won’t prosper. It is worth making the investment to learn these skills (or finding the rare culture that won’t care).

      1. Anon4This1*

        I would agree with this, but I think people have to understand their preferences to “overcome” them. The OP’s letter reads with a clear tone of not understanding why people are even interested in their inane chitchat and that they prefer to work alone with a type of work that is not preferred by a lot of other people ( and I do the same type of work, and I get paid a lot because it is unpalatable work for many people). OP seems to know what she prefers and that not participating in office chat is having a detrimental effect on her suitability for promotion. She just needs to learn to work around the introversion preference and decide if learning how to make small talk is worth the effort for career advancement. (I’ve had to have this conversation with people before, and I get the, “This is who I am./Stop trying to change me.” speech, which is not the point. The point is that, regardless of whether or not a necessary job skill comes easy to you, it’s an essential part of the job.)

        But I do agree with you on the point that this is a learned skill and that being an introvert isn’t an excuse not to become proficient at a part of your job. I think the purpose of a lot of people here identifying as introverts is that they want to empathize with OP and share their strategies for overcoming the lack of desire or innate skill in this area.

      2. Rana*

        Agreed. I’m introverted in how I manage my energy – I need time alone and being around people who constantly engage with me when I just want to think my own thoughts is exhausting – but I do actually like other people and find them interesting.

        I think, OP, that this is something that you’re missing when you view small talk as “nattering” “babbling” or gameplaying – you’re assuming that it’s just empty words that people are using to gain status. But it’s not. It’s more typically a way for people to show interest in each other as other humans, and the talk is “small” because it’s easier to have a conversation with someone you don’t know very well when you focus on things like the weather, traffic, the silly things our pets do, etc. than if you jump right into something intense and heavy like the nature of existence or the intricacies of our political system or the validity of religion.

        By dismissing it as mere performance, you’re missing that people engage in it not primarily to make themselves look good, but because they are actually interested in other people, or recognize that at the very least they should be polite enough to pretend that they are. So far, you’ve made it pretty clear that you don’t actually find your coworkers all that interesting, and that you resent that you should even maintain a polite fiction of caring, and that you’d rather not waste your time and energy dealing with these inconveniences.

        Given that, is it any surprise that they’re not very interested in you?

        Also, don’t worry so much about being “witty” and “bantering.” A good, low-energy strategy is to ask questions that enable them to display their wit while you listen politely. They will look good, they will enjoy the chance to show off, you get to participate without having to do much beyond the initial prompt, you show that you care about them at least enough to do the polite thing occasionally, and they will feel more warmly towards you.

  9. Jenny*

    I have a coworker who’s a total extrovert, so I suspect this comes naturally to her (it doesn’t to me, so I’ve been taking notes). What I’ve noticed is that she often uses one simple, yet brilliant, question to get people talking: “Do you have anything special planned this weekend?” It works for everybody — not too personal, nothing too heavy. The answer might lead to what they like to do in their spare time, something about their family, whether they have pets, whether they like to travel, etc. From there, she just follows up (and is genuinely interested) and asks more about whatever they’ve brought up.

    1. UnCivilServant*

      I don’t think that track will work with everybody. It might be more efective with people more prone to being talkative. When I get that question, I give a one word answer and try to turn any talk to work.

      I know I am not a good example for someone to follow. Crumudgeon has been quite aptly applied.

      1. INTP*

        Same here. I think I’ve become defensive about the question because of how many people have told me I need to go out and party on the weekends because I’m young and single. It’s not a fun small talk for me because it’s one of those things I’ve been judged for answering “incorrectly” so many times that I feel like I’m being tested every time I’m asked. (Same with “What kind of music do you like?” because I know so many weirdos who use it as a test to decide whether someone is cool enough to try to get to know better.) I mean, I’ll answer the question and pretend not to be annoyed at being asked it but it’s not the question to get me talking.

        I prefer asking people about things I’ve already seen them go on at length about, so I know it’s a safe question – their grandkids, their house hunt, a TV show we both watch, etc. You just have to memorize one topic for each coworker and you’re covered.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        But it kind of does work — assuming you’re not that interested in any small talk! You cut it right off and move back to what you do what to talk about.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, I used to always hate this question — I felt like I was failing at answering it because my weekend plans are so often “nap and do nothing,” and the question seems to demand a more exciting answer. But now I just own my answer — I talk about napping and doing nothing in a passionate, excited tone, and I think of it as doing my part to promote those as exciting weekend choices.

      1. Lillian McGee*

        Same! My usual response to what-are-you-doing-this-weekend is “Nothing! It’s going to be great!”

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Me too. And I almost always get a positive response – “Oh man, those weekends are the best!” “Ugh, if I didn’t have my college roommate visiting that’s totally what I’d be doing,” or whatever.

          1. OhNo*

            Same here! I also make a point to respond positively whenever someone says that to me. There’s no reason anyone should feel bad for doing nothing on the weekend. That’s what the weekend is for!

          2. Karo*

            Ditto. Whenever I say “absolutely nothing” (which is most of the time), the response tends more towards jealousy than towards judgment.

            1. CMart*

              I believe it’s comedian John Mulaney who has a bit about how it’s fascinating that “doing nothing” moves from being the worst thing to happen to you on the weekends to the best. That you come into work on Monday, ask a colleague what they did this weekend, and their face just lights up. “I did… nothing!!”

              1. Lily in NYC*

                That’s how I realized I was getting old! I used to love going out until 4 am on weekends and now my idea of heaven is not seeing another person for two whole days.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  YES, me too. I miss how enjoyable that used to be, but it would be the opposite of ejoyable now. (I feel like I need a site like AAM but that’s all about getting old because I have so many questions and things to discuss about it. Someone needs to start Ask a Middle-Aged Person.)

                2. Aurion*

                  By that metric, I’ve never been young…my older cousin once described me as “the oldest 20 year old I have ever seen”, so I’ve been this way since I understood the concept of “hiding in my room reading.” :D

                3. Belle*

                  I totally relate to this! My husband and I are in our early 30s and our parents are always joking that we are older than them because of our nightly routine of watching Wheel and Jeopardy and then going to bed. I remind them that we get up at 4:30/5:00 AM — but they still find it funny we would rather watch our tv shows than party.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, the happy tone is everything. “I’ve got a new book I can’t wait to get into!” or “I’m catching up on Game of Thrones!” or “I’m going to make chicken casserole!” or even “Taking the dog for a long walk!” Most people are just asking to be kind and make conversation; they aren’t actually looking for you to say that you’re jetting to Paris.

        1. Eloise*

          Napping and a good book sound wonderful! I get why people might not like the question, and of course skeevy boss and “you should be partying” stuff is icky. But it does serve as a useful all-purpose opener, especially if you don’t know someone well. From just the example answers here, you could follow up with “Oh, where did you go to college?” or “Aren’t those dragons great?” or “What kind of dog do you have?” or “I’ve been looking for a chicken casserole recipe; how do you make yours?” And then boom, you’re making small talk.

        2. Mando Diao*

          Dude even when I was in my early 20s, “Um, gonna make foods and do weird junk on the internet” was the exciting answer.

      3. Hilary Faye*

        This is always how I feel when people ask about my hobbies. I think they’re expecting something much more exciting than watch TV and occasionally read a book!

      4. A.*

        And I also hate it when I actually *do* have special plans, because then I don’t know if I should talk about it in detail since they asked or if it’d be braggy? And what if they don’t really care about the answer? So I end up freezing and giving a weird, awkward half-answers (“Going to the beach…anniversary, good times but nothing crazy. You know.”)

        (I think this kind of overthinking is what stalls a lot of introverts with small talk!)

        1. Gem*

          Your last parentheses is definitely true. I do the exercise of: would I see it as bragging if the other person was telling me this? If the answer is no, and it is most of the time, then I’ll say it, and its fine.

        2. KellyK*

          Ha, yes, the overthinking! I do that too! For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s bragging to talk about your plans when someone asks. Even if you’re doing something extravagant, unless you’re going on and on about how much it cost and how you just have to stay at the five-star resort, it should be fine. (I just went to a B&B on the beach for my tenth anniversary, and my coworkers seemed happy to hear about it, and one asked for pictures (which I still need to post.))

        3. LadyKelvin*

          I find saying “actually I do!” and then describing what I’m doing works well to remove the feeling of bragging. Its just saying, normally I don’t but I’m excited because I do have something special planned. And I hope that people who ask if you have special plans actually want to hear about them if you do. And yes, I’m an introvert and bad at small talk. But if I’m asking about your plans, I actually want to hear about exciting things you are doing, even if/when I tell you that I’m super jealous because it sounds fun.

        4. Kelly L.*

          Or if it’s going to be incredibly dorky and I don’t know how they’ll respond!

          “Yep! I’ve got HUGE plans this weekend! I’m going to (SFF convention) and I’m going to go around dressed like a Dalek. It’ll be great.”

          1. Random Citizen*

            I will ask you what a Dalek is, and if you’ve ever been to a convention like that before and where it is, and what you do at an SFF convention, and if you sound pumped about it, I’ll be like, “Woah, that’s so cool!”

      5. Chriama*

        I literally say “I never have plans”. It’s just wanting to engage with people. Think of all the times your parents asked ‘how was school today’? You have school every day, but it’s just about connecting through sharing, but when the answer was “nothing” (which was most of the time in my case) you just say that. There’s no test, trick or trap here.

      6. Cafe au Lait*

        I use to feel that I was “so boring” when I’d respond “Nothing much; just going to fix some stuff around the house and work on my knitting.” Then I realized it’s who I am, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of my personal choices.

      7. Parcae*

        Like many people in this thread, I’m naturally reserved and had to make a deliberate effort to get better at small talk. I got pretty good at the weather/food/Netflix chit-chat relatively quickly, but the “what did you do last weekend?”/”do you have any exciting weekend plans?” questions were completely terrifying. I never seemed to have a “cool” answer, and when I *did* actually have plans, I stumbled over trying to explain them without seeming braggy. I finally resorted to planning out my answers ahead of time.

        Seriously, every Monday and Friday before work, I plan out my answer to the dreaded weekend question. The secret is that your answer doesn’t actually have to be exciting or, if you’re really desperate, true. Once, I told a coworker that my Friday night plan was to call my mother and listen to her monologue about reality television for an hour. Another time, I reported that I spent my weekend listening to old episodes of Radiolab and ignoring my dirty laundry. Really any answer is fine; I just have to plan it out ahead of time so I don’t get that crazed deer-in-the-headlights look when I’m asked.

      8. DoDah*

        Yah–I don’t get it. There’s really no FAIL at this question. Any judgment might be self imposed.

      9. Amy G. Golly*

        That is exactly how I handle this question! If I answer “What are you up to this weekend?” with “Absolutely nothing” but said in the same tone one might use to announce “I’m going to Disneyland!” then I find it’s actually a good conversation starter: we talk about how nice it is to have a weekend to yourself.

        As an introvert who’s actually fairly social, I start to obsess if I have more than one social activity planned for the weekend. I’m sure more than one coworker has decided I’m a terrible humble braggart when I make “I have two birthday parties this Saturday!” sound like I’ve just been summoned to jury duty. (Even though it feels that way. It really, really does.)

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      I had a boss that would ask the young female employees (and only them) about their weekend plans. And then follow up with asking if they were going on any dates. Ick.

    4. Lady Blerd*

      I have a coworker like this. She’s only been with us a few months yet has turned just about anyone, from our office cleaner to our bosses or higher, into acquaitances or even friends. I had another coworker who could have complete strangers telling her their life story while calling for customer service. I told her people actually train to develop such skills.

    5. Dana*

      Oh God, I hate that question so much It definitely doesn’t “work” for me. But I will answer it honestly: “No.”

      1. Colette*

        That’s the kind of answer that shuts down conversation, which is ok if that’s what you’re intending. On the other hand, “no, first quiet weekend this month – I’m looking forward to relaxing!” gives the other person something to respond to and keeps the conversation going.

        1. Dana*

          Yeah, the whole point is I don’t want to be having the stupid conversation in the first place.

          1. Rat in the Sugar*

            Isn’t it the whole point of this post that it’s NOT a “stupid conversation”? This whole discussion is about how these conversations have value in the workplace. If you personally value being left alone over the advantages that engaging in a little small talk will bring you, that’s cool, but it’s not a “stupid conversation”, that’s just how you personally feel about it.

            1. Dana*

              I think the point of this post is that these stupid conversations are a currency in some workplaces and so you may, unfortunately, need to put up with them in order to succeed.

              My work doesn’t require me to deal with such blathering, luckily.

              1. Tea*

                Not really? I think the point of this post is that some amount of social lubrication is necessary in just about any office, unless you are literally sitting alone staring at a screen/some documents all day every day. In which case, don’t you don’t need to talk to your paper or computer.

                But people aren’t papers or computers or excel spreadsheets; conversations aren’t stupid, and neither are the people who choose to have them, just as it’s not stupid (and is in fact very smart), not to shut down the coworkers who are casually expressing interest in your life. To take the “Any plans for the weekend?” example, if all you really wanted to do was end this “stupid conversation,” a response like, “Oh, not really” and a shrug + smile accomplishes all that and wraps up the conversation without the coldness a flat “No” entails.

              2. Random Citizen*

                And in some cases, it’s not currency, but wanting to connect with other people. Small talk is hard for me sometimes (I don’t know how to start the conversation!), but it is the funnest thing in the world for me to listen to someone talk about something they’re passionate about. Enthusiasm is contagious, and if I can ask enough questions to get someone talking about what interests them, I’m totally happy.

                And not everyone is like that, to be sure – some just don’t enjoy human interaction the way I do. But it’s not all stupid conversations, and some of us enjoy the “blathering,” because it’s not about what you say, it’s about sharing something with a person you care about on some level.

              3. Colette*

                It’s not just about your current workplace, either. Building a network requires a level of personal connection. Being someone who is brusque and never connects to your coworkers means that they either won’t remember you or they won’t want to go out of their way to help you in the future.

    6. C Average*

      My go-to answer to this is “I’m doing what I do every weekend, Pinky: I’m taking over the world.”

      If they get it, they laugh. If they don’t get it, I tell them about Pinky and the Brain and they run off to Google it.

      I also like “Oh, you know . . . living the dream.” Delivered with a certain casual insouciance.

      People think I am funny and friendly, and they STILL don’t know that this weekend I am doing absolutely nothing.

  10. Muriel Heslop*

    I am a full-tilt extrovert raised in a family of introverts and my advice is to ask questions. My sister creates the illusion of small talk by asking questions and getting people to talk about themselves. It takes practice, but I’ve seen it work to great effect.

    Compliments are also a great conversation starter and engender good will.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Asking questions is KEY. I was a very awkward teenager, and after reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (yes, I know), I realized that I didn’t have to talk about myself if I could get other people to talk about themselves. It took the pressure off, and then gave me answers to observe for when people asked me those same questions. It actually became very useful in my last job, where I had to interview university applicants: I could draw information out of people in a way that didn’t make them uncomfortable.

      1. Anja*

        I thought your name said “Mirabellenbaum” at first which made me miss the tree at my old house.

      2. Random Citizen*

        That book totally changed the way I approach conversations! Now my goal is to ask enough questions to hit on something they’re really interested in, and it’s all downhill from there. I love listening to people talk about things they love.

    2. OhNo*

      +1 to both of these tactics. You can combine them for double the effect, too. One of my favorite conversation starters with people I don’t know well is, “Oh, I really like your [X piece of clothing]. Where did you get it?”

      Then you can follow up with other questions (“Is it comfortable?”/”Do you like it?”/”Is it as warm/cool as it looks?”). Most people find this to be a pretty innocuous conversation topic, and you can also cut it off easily at any time (“Nice, I’m going to have to see if I can get one. Bye!”).

    3. Adam*

      Yes to questions. I’m pretty introverted but come off extroverted sometimes. And making small talk is easy for me if I can get people talking about something they openly like sharing that doesn’t bore me to tears (unless the wind is picking up cars, I could not possibly care less about the weather). Asking people questions that lead to decent length answers with follow-up can lead to full conversations where I barely have to say anything.

      1. DoDah*

        I could literally ask people questions all day–every day. Love it. I think the key is to have some interest in the answer, though. Or for the OP to “feign” some interest in the answer.

        1. Random Citizen*

          The key is to find an area of common interest. I’m pretty curious in general, and have ended up in long-ish conversations with coworkers about the finer points of economic analytics (I was so fascinated and so lost – he ended up pulling up a Wikipedia article to try and explain it better), how European soccer leagues work, where salt bowls come from, how touchscreens work (SO COOL!), 48-hour all-night trivia contests, politics (mostly processes – delegates, primaries, etc. – and mostly people w/ the opposite political leanings as me, interestingly enough). The key was that these were things my coworkers were knowledgeable on/experienced in/interested in learning about that also interested me, so I asked questions, commented when I had any idea what the heck we were talking about, and appreciated the opportunity to learn something knew and form a bond with the person.

    4. C Average*

      Questions are great!

      When I was first taking up distance running and ran with partners who were faster than me, I got really good at asking open-ended questions that would force THEM to do the talking (so I could do my best to keep up and continue breathing). Later, when I started doing interviews for writing projects, I employed the same sorts of questions.

  11. Amber T*

    I agree with Alison where you don’t need to do this 40 hours a week, every week. If it helps you, mentally set aside time where you’ll make small talk with coworkers and prep for it like you would an interview. Every Monday from 9-9:30, you will talk with Janice from accounting about her weekend. Every Wednesday at lunch, you’ll talk with Joe about that show that aired on Tuesday night. Every Friday at 3, you’ll ask Marta what her plans are for the weekend. Switch it up week to week, but mentally prepare yourself!

    Being thrown into small talk that I’m not prepared for can be taxing and difficult for me too (unless it’s about something I love and can discuss at a drop of a dime, like cats or Game of Thrones). I definitely switch it on when I can but need to switch it off as well. Fake it til you make it, then go hide on your couch under blankets with a good book and a glass of wine (best experience after a long day full of people).

    1. Graciosa*

      I think the planning element will be very helpful, but I admit I am cringing at the amount of time you’re suggesting. A half hour with one person about their weekend seems like a lot for small talk (although possibly because I’m extremely introverted!).

      What helped me was making sure I walked around once or twice a day (kind of making a circuit around the office). I would smile and lift a hand (more acknowledgment than wave) at people who were on the phone or occupied, and stop for a brief exchange with a few others who seemed available and open to it.

      Even “Hey! How’s it going?” worked just fine for an opener. Small talk doesn’t take a lot of effort, and the advantage is that it’s fair to have very short conversations. My follow ups might be nothing more than “Wow, that sounds [great / frustrating / like you’re having an exciting day / whatever] and a closing along the lines of “Well, I guess I’ll let you get back to it – it was good to see you.”

      A thirty second interaction with someone can leave them thinking how charming you are if you can maintain the right tone for those few seconds.

      This – combined with the fact that I made a conspicuous (well, to me!) effort to smile happily at *everyone* – convinced people that I was friendly, cheerful, and genuinely interested in my co-workers. Really, every time I walked out of my office I was smiling madly at everyone I met, even on the way to the bathroom!

      I kind of think it’s a bit ridiculous to have to do this, but like a lot of introverts, my resting face reads as severe. This actually just means I’m operating inside my head, but that’s not how it’s interpreted. Promiscuous smiling at all and sundry seems to counter that impression.

      If I could add anything to Alison’s advice, it would be for the OP to *smile* at everyone (even as she appears to be dashing off to an urgent appointment in the privacy and solitude of her office).

      P.S. – Amazingly, no one ever asked why I was walking around the office. Ever. In the *years* that I have used this technique. Everyone assumed I was on my way to or from somewhere and was just moved by my great love of my fellow man to smile, wave, or chat with whomever I encountered. This is an enormous benefit from something that literally never took more than a few minutes.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        What helped me was making sure I walked around once or twice a day (kind of making a circuit around the office). I would smile and lift a hand (more acknowledgment than wave) at people who were on the phone or occupied, and stop for a brief exchange with a few others who seemed available and open to it.“Hey! How’s it going?” worked just fine for an opener.

        YES! I do this too! I lean toward introversion, but more importantly, I’m shy (which is a totally different thing). At my last job I naturally had to move around the office a lot, so instead of walking from Point A to Point B with my eyes on the floor, I made a conscious decision to make eye contact and smile at everyone I passed. A smile and a “hey, how’s it going” without letting your feet stop moving is a win-win – over time it cements you in other people’s heads as a friendly and engaging person, even though you mostly avoid having to actually make small talk.

      2. Kate*

        Promiscuous smiling! What an excellent way to put it. In changing jobs, I made the social jump from “mean and likes no one” to “friendly but quiet and shy” just by smiling more. It felt so unnatural at first, but it’s gotten better and I don’t have to talk that much more, really.

        1. aebhel*

          This is my go-to. I’m… I would say more asocial than introverted, in the sense that I don’t have and don’t want many relationships with other people, and definitely not with my coworkers. I don’t care about their weekend plans, or their cats, or their TV shows, or whatever. But if I’m quiet and smiley instead of quiet and hostile, people assume ‘shy and quiet’ over ‘silent jerk’. There’s no more talking involved, just a bit more smiling and eye contact.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Yup, sadly I’ve found this to be true as well, so I walk around smiling all the time at work. It’s so exhausting, but it needs to be done I guess (I do want to move up – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother).

    2. DMented Kitty*

      Oi. I’ve been trying to find someone who can endlessly talk about cats and GoT. My kind of conversation. :D

  12. JeannieNitro*

    Oh man. I’m actually fairly decent at small talk, when it’s a couple people at a time (like my team, or running into someone in the kitchen) — because you really do only have to keep it up for 5 minutes or less.

    What I’m terrible at is work parties. We had a giant work party recently. I’m fairly new to the company, so I don’t know anyone well enough for them to be my “home base / safe person”. I managed to be okay eventually, but when I first walked in I got so overwhelmed that I ran to the bathroom and cried for an hour. >.<

    So yeah. I definitely understand feeling exhausted by small talk.

    1. Amber T*

      Work parties can suck! When you’re at work, you can always make the excuse of escaping back to your desk to finish some task when the conversation gets awkward. But at parties? Ugh.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        I stopped going. Everyone was happier. Luckily, attendance doesn’t impact my performance review.

    2. MsMaryMary*

      Oh, ugh, work parties. I don’t mind social time with coworkers or clients (although I’d rather be at home or with actual friends). The worst for me are “networking events” or social time after a conference or event. I hate trying to talk to total strangers. My trick is to look for other people who look as awkward or at loose ends as I feel. Generally they’re happy someone else has broken the ice and pulled them into a conversation. Then we can be awkward together.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        Generally they’re happy someone else has broken the ice and pulled them into a conversation

        Or you could end up running into me…

        So, will you be joining us at the social outcasts table?

        1. MsMaryMary*

          Oh, I’m fine with that too! Five minutes of complaining to each other about how much we hate these things still gets me five minutes closer to going home.

      2. pomme de terre*

        I prefer networking events to a lot of other softer schmoozing opportunities because the word is right there in the description. We are all here to talk to each other about business. It is the raison d’etre of this event. It is artificial, it is awkward, and we’re all going to do it anyway.

        My trick has always been telling myself I have to talk to five people, and then I can leave. More often than not, it gets easier after the second person and I end up talking to more than five, because people introduce you to others they know, or join and leave the conversation, and eventually there’s a good enough conversational flow that I forget and stop counting. But technically once I hit five, I can feel I’ve given it the old college try and leave.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      My strategy for work parties is to stick with the food. Any time I get overwhelmed–look! Chicken wings!

      1. Rana*

        Plus eventually everyone comes by the food, so you get to mingle and interact without doing anything special.

    4. OhNo*

      Best advice I ever got for parties: find a line.

      Seriously, just find a line. Wait in the line. Chat briefly with the people ahead of or behind you. Get whatever the line was for. Take a short breather for yourself to recuperate. Find another line. Repeat.

      If you’re lucky you’ll end up in an interesting conversation with the people around you in line that you can continue for a while. If not, at least you chatted with people you might not have otherwise spoken to, and you can move on and find somebody else.

    5. Mimmy*

      Hear, hear on the work parties! A previous employer–a large nonprofit–would have an annual holiday party and I went just about every year I worked there. I’m a bit of a misfit, so most times, NO ONE would sit with me. One time my husband was with me and, after finding no one to sit with, we settled on an empty table. When one lady from the lab asked if she could sit with us, my husband was like “please”. He subsequently stopped going with me because the fact that no one would sit with me upset him.

      I did enjoy going anyway because I liked seeing everyone dressed up and it was always a nice event.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I told my manager, who was badgering me to go to the holiday party last year, that, if I wanted to be ignored by all of the “professional staff”, I could just come to work for that and not have to pay for a babysitter and cocktail dress for the privilege of it.

    6. Isabel C.*

      This. I don’t mind the water-cooler “Hey, how was your weekend?” exchange: I’m in, I’m out, I’m back to work until the next time. I *would* mind a culture where I was expected to spend every lunch hour chatting with people, where they actively interrupted me for small talk, or where they expected the water-cooler thing to go past a couple sentences on a regular basis.

  13. GovWorker*

    Working at home would be great for you, no pressure to kibbutz. Ask about it. I mostly work at home and I love it. I have no problem with small talk, but I prefer to do my work and be left alone.

  14. Gem*

    I can swing wildly from extrovert to introvert, so I generally have something to say on those days where I cannot be arsed, as I have previously spoken to people, but just asking what people are working on at the moment, how their weekend was, the weather (I don’t know, I’m British), and then letting people fill that space is sometimes all you need. Then you can make your escape if you’re in the kitchen or something (sorry, got a call to get to/got a meeting/whatever). And you’ve made a connection, and that snowballs then. It will feel weird at first, but you may get used to it, like everything else in the working world.

    I get that remembering that Jill in Accounting has a pug with a dodgy leg may not be your idea of a good time, but it doesn’t have to be that, it can be just be a short connecting exchange.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Not gonna lie, I kind of love talking about the weather. It’s one of those rare conversations where you don’t have to look for common ground, because we’re all experiencing the same weather. There’s actually an entire chapter in Kate Fox’s “Watching the English” about weather-talk (it’s a fascinating participant-observation book about English people).

      1. Papyrus*

        I’m the opposite. To me, talking about the weather means we’ve reached the absolute nadir of conversation, and I just try to extricate myself out of the situation as soon as possible.

        Although, I live in CA. It ranges from hot, to not so hot, to kinda cold. But watch out when it rains! People talk about that event for DAYS.

        1. Adam*

          Agreed. If the weather isn’t making news discussing it signifies to me that neither of us wants to talk but at least one of us thinks the silence would be too awkward.

        2. Anonicat*

          Slightly OT but my dad and I take hiking trips together and someone asked what we talk about, and I said “The weather”…then had to explain why that is actually a very compelling subject when you’re 2 days walk from anywhere! Then you talk about geology, and plant life, and animal scats, and where the hell is the next water point…

      2. Overeducated*

        I was going to comment to recommend “Watching the English” too! I think that’s a great perspective on small talk in general – small talk like talking about the weather isn’t actually inane or dumb, it’s a convention that creates a way to overcome awkwardness and find “rules” for social interactions using a topic common and accessible to everyone.

        Might help the Letter Writer to think about small talk anthropologically, in terms of how it “works” and what its function is, rather than in terms of whether the content itself is interesting or which personality types enjoy it most.

      3. C Average*

        Back in college I read a fascinating book about the role of weather in poetry and prose of the Romantic period. (I was an English lit major, so it may not be a book for everyone.) It talked about, among other things, the way that weather is the great leveler. No matter who you are, what you look like*, what you do for a living, much of your day-to-day life is governed by the weather. Given how powerful and inscrutable the weather can be, it’s not amazing that people talk about it a lot; it’s rather amazing that it’s considered a shallow subject.

        (I would argue that people with naturally curly hair are affected by the weather perhaps a bit more than the general population, but that didn’t seem to be a concern for the poets of the Romantic period.)

  15. the_scientist*

    Prefacing my comment with the fact that I am also very much an introvert…..but: I think that OP is displaying a (small) chip on her shoulder in her letter. People who are natural conversationalists aren’t “babbling”, “nattering incessantly” or “chatterboxes”. It doesn’t mean that they’re less intelligent, less focused, or less dedicated to their work. Being reserved and quiet also doesn’t mean being disagreeable or cold……but if you’re giving off the vibe that you view small talk or really any sort of non work-related discussion with your colleagues as beneath you, you WILL probably be seen as disagreeable. Not saying the OP is doing this, but I think it is something worth considering based on the letter.

    When I was younger, I always thought that hard skills were the only thing that really mattered in terms of career success; that as long as I was dedicated and smart, and knew my sh*t, people would respect and admire me and want to work with me, and I’d have no problems findings jobs and succeeding in them.

    Of course, the reality is that in most jobs your reputation is AT LEAST as much built on your “soft skills” as it is on your hard skills, especially early in your career. Entry-level postings at my organization typically receive more than 100 applications. So really, if you’re a jerk….I can find someone just as smart/skilled as you who is not going to also alienate all their coworkers. Being friendly, being helpful, being reliable- these things really matter, and really impact how well you can do your job. Being friendly doesn’t have to mean being extremely outgoing, or having a detailed understanding of the things your coworkers like. But it does mean being willing to at least try to engage at a social level.

    1. CMT*

      Yeah, soft skills are skills just as much as any other. It’s right there in the name! They can be just as important as technical skills and when somebody lacks them, the right attitude to have isn’t that they’re unimportant or useless.

    2. SL #2*

      My first internship was in a city and a profession where soft skills mattered above a lot of other things. At my final review, my supervisor mentioned that many of the full-time employees really liked me and told him that they really liked me because I took the time to get to know the office and everyone in it. Truth be told, it was exhausting for me (an introvert who actually enjoys small talk and meeting new people) and I was constantly nervous about bothering them/coming off as rude, but it was well worth all the effort in the end. I never, ever forget the importance of soft skills after that experience.

      I think for the OP, it’d be useful to think of “practicing” small talk as skills development. Just like someone would work hard to be better at making pivot tables on Excel without having to google how to do so every single time, working on how to be good, or at least capable, of small talk is just as important in a lot of offices. People may not judge if you have to google the last step in making a pivot table, but they definitely will judge if you come off as disinterested, cold, or stand-offish because you don’t ever engage in small talk.

      1. Overeducated*

        Yes, this! Soft skills aren’t innate and can be improved through practice just like “hard” skills. Take it from me…I was a shy, introverted kid who spent her 20s doing a lot of solitary research, and now I’m starting a new job based not on my technical skills, but my ability to build relationships and work with project partners.

    3. NicoleK*

      Exactly! No one can force you to socialize with your coworkers. But don’t be shocked and surprised when you’re passed over for promotions and management opportunities.

  16. CMT*

    Is this really an introvert/extrovert issue? I’m an introvert in that being around and interacting with people is mentally draining for me and being alone is refreshing. But I don’t mind small talk, and in fact I really like using it to build relationships with my coworkers or other acquaintances. It’s a skill I’ve learned and gotten better at as I’ve gotten older, just like any other. I think it’s useful and I don’t look down my nose at people who engage in it. But that doesn’t make me an extrovert; I definitely need a quiet night on the couch with my cat after a long day of it.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      I’m an introvert who actually likes small talk, because it’s a safe social buffer zone. It’s hard to describe, but being able to have conversations like “what are you up to this weekend?” / “oh, nothing much, but I might try a new stir fry recipe this weekend–how about you?” / “not much, thinking of catching Ghostbusters” / “oh cool! let me know what you think!” / “will do!”–well, it means that my social obligations are DONE, with no need to get into deep or lengthy conversation, or get too personal or emotional, or any of the things that I really hate about casual social interactions. It was a skill that I had to learn (and I set out to learn it specifically), but as an introvert I found it to be a godsend. No more anxious fretting about either being seen as aloof or about being dragged into long conversations that I didn’t want to be a part of, since I knew how to interact briefly and then sort of… stick the dismount when I was done talking.

      (In point of fact, the most vocal opponents of small talk in my social circles are the extroverts, who often complain about wanting to have real, meaningful conversations. Which is great with friends, but I don’t want it at all with casual acquaintances and coworkers!)

      1. fposte*

        Me too–it’s a pastime, like playing an instrument or playing Pokemon Go :-). I think maybe the OP is being slightly pejorative because she doesn’t get the rules and it all seems like noise without pattern. But as with most pastimes, that’s only true from the outside. And as with most pastimes, it’s good to be alert to our tendency to miscategorize anything that isn’t to our taste as a lesser thing to do.

        1. CMT*

          Speaking of, in my office at least, Pokemon Go would be the perfect small talk topic! We’re all obsessed.

      2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        Yes! Gosh. So am I!

        I’m great at small talk and pretty good at mingling because it’s just for a short period of time.
        But then I want to leave.

        I find it very difficult to deepen my relationships. I have quite a few good friends that I adore but making new ones are much harder because I feel much more judged.

      3. Marillenbaum*

        THIS THIS THIS! I’ve found my people! I hate getting super-deep with people I don’t know (it feels manipulative), and this is like…verbal ice skating: quick glide in and away, and enjoying the sense of dexterity it provides.

      4. Isabel C.*

        Yep yep yep. Whenever I see a FB acquaintance talk semi-proudly about how they’re “no good at small talk”, I think that there’s someone who would corner me for an hour-long conversation on her marital issues fifteen minutes after being introduced.

    2. Mando Diao*

      Reading through the comments, I’m wondering if the OP has left-field preferences or is a certain personality type and has gotten used to stuffing it all under the “introvert” umbrella (which is a common way to use the term). She might have had experiences that cause her to guard the details of her life exceptionally privately. OP’s coworkers aren’t mean or stupid or bad at their jobs. You can be introverted and still be kind and approachable. You just have to learn to say, “I’m glad to hear your dog is doing better, Bob. I have to get back to my work now but I’ll catch up with you later.” I’m trying not to read too far into OP’s letter or to get drawn into a pile-on but OP might need to consider if she likes other people. Some people openly admit that they don’t have much regard for other people. But to sit at work and wonder why on earth people would bother to talk about a TV show or their new couch…that’s frankly very strange.

  17. Bend & Snap*

    I’m an extreme introvert who would be happy to never talk to my coworkers even though there nice. But when people find out they’re always surprised, because I’m able to fake it. A tiny bit of small talk with a smile goes a long way, and so does a closed door and/or ear buds that keep you from interacting.

    I eat lunch alone, sometimes in my car, by choice. But I also make it a point to greet people in the morning and when I see them in the hall. It is still taxing but not as heavy a lift as, say, team lunches or team building activities.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      There = they’re

      Also + however many to posters who say small talk is a skill instead of an inherent gift. You have to work at it.

  18. INTP*

    I actually have a super easy formula for this that might suit the OP’s detailed nature. Memorize one thing about each person that they seem to like to talk about. Kids, grandkids, house hunting, and wedding plans all tend to be good topics if they apply, but it can also be a hobby or another topic, just nothing controversial. Whenever you are alone with that person, in the elevator or break room or waiting for a meeting to start, ask about that thing. “How’s the grandkid? He’s two, right?” “What have you been cooking lately?” “How are the wedding plans going?” It can be that vague.

    For the most part, people don’t expect you to be a stunning conversationalist, they just want to feel like you’re interested in them. This accomplishes that without requiring that you get to know everyone in great detail or be creative in your small talk.

    1. AFT123*

      This is a good tip although I’ve found that I sort of hit a wall with it after awhile. My boss seems to really value interpersonal relationships and long conversations with his reports, and I do feel as though I fall behind in that aspect. I can only ask about his boat, grandson, and beer hobby so many times, ya know? I’ve been trying to figure out how to be better in this regard.

      1. AFT123*

        I swear at this point he is probably thinking “Why the hell is she so interested in my boat?!”

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Ha! Watch him invite you out for a ride in the boat because he thinks you are so into it.

    2. Kate*

      I feel a little creepy doing it, but I may have been known to keep teeny fact files about people in my Evernote for this sort of thing. Not so much that it’s stalkery, just so I remember that they have a sister and their dog is named Bucky or what have you. I have a terrible memory! D:

      1. Random Citizen*

        OMG I have done that! Especially when I started a new job it was, So-and-so plays on a traveling baseball team, Manager is really into raising his dogs and hunting trips, Accounting Person has a sister and recently started dating RandomPersonIDon’tKnow. It felt creepy, but it helped until I got to know them better!

  19. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Oof, I feel you, OP! I’m pretty introverted, and apparently my work persona can be very severe; I’ve had to work to have the kind of casual, chatty relationships that it feels like others can do naturally. One of the things I’ve started doing that makes it easier is “scheduling” chatting with coworkers into my day. For example, I know that the coworker across from me in our cube row likes to hear about some of the crazy casework I come across; if I decide “okay, I’m going to share one case with her a week that’s totally out there,” it’s a manageable amount of casual interaction, and I can budget my energy appropriately for it. “I’ll tell her about this funny case, maybe she’ll tell me one of hers, and then we’ll get back to work.”

    Another thing that I found makes a huge difference is just smiling and saying “hi” to people when you pass them going from Point A to Point B. It’s not chattering, but it still creates an image of you as more approachable and friendly (and thus, more likely to not be “The Frigid Introvert”). Small talk doesn’t have to be a big involved production; really, all you need is to be a generally positive presence and that accomplishes the biggest part of your core goal.

    1. UnCivilServant*

      I have a ways to go with regards to greeting people in the hallway. Often I’m lost in thought while walking and by the time I realize someone’s said something, I’m already ten paces further down and the window of proper timing has passed.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Being deliberate is key. In my first job, I got a performance review that said I basically came across as aloof (not good in a job where the majority of your work involves talking to people!), so I set about changing that. I knew there were certain times when socializing felt more natural, and I went there. In my case, it meant I asked my boss about his weekend plans while we all grabbed coffee before Thursday staff meeting, and then again the following Monday morning. A quick “By the way, how was your in-laws’ visit?” showed I was interested and paying attention, and went a long way towards smoothing those relationships. Importantly, it combined with my excellent work product to give me the leverage to ask for things I wanted, like getting assigned the business trip to India.

  20. STL*

    I think saying “this is just the way I am” is making you sound like you’re resistant to change or growth. Of course not being able to be likeable and relatable at work is going to hold back your career prospects in the field of law. You can say you’re resistant to change or you can focus on gaining the social skills necessary to advance.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      That’s an excellent point. We all have to remember what we are trying to achieve. It sounds like LW would like their ideas to be taken more seriously in discussion, so building relationships with people who could sponsor those ideas is key. And I agree about “just the way I am”: one of my favorite high school teachers once said “Never attempt to excuse the behavior you choose by saying it’s the way you are”, and it’s something I’ve always tried to remember.

    2. Lady Blerd*

      I’m an extroverted introvert ie I can be around people but it’s a skill that I developped over time. I work in a field that require social interaction and individuals who keep to themselves are looked at suspciously but I’ve learned to be part of the group even if I eventually end up being the quiet one. In fact, the older I get, the less alone I require to recharge my batteries (but I still need it though). In fact I can now be convinced to go out for drinks at the last minute whereas I required at least a week’s notice.

  21. GovWorker*

    BTW not all extrovert appearing people are true extroverts. Folks are usually surprised that I consider myself an introvert, because I connect easily with others and am not afraid to speak in front of people. But this is in small doses only, I could never be a salesperson or anything else requiring me to be “on” all the time. I absolutely need lits of time to myself.

    You can learn the art of small talk, and engaging in it won’t change you it will just help normal social intercourse flow when you are in the office. Good luck to you.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Same to all of this. I actually had someone tell me flat-out that I wasn’t an introvert because I could do small talk. I am very much an introvert in the sense that social interaction tires me rather than energizing me–I just taught myself small talk, that’s all.

      1. fposte*

        Right, same here. There’s no shortage of introvert actors–it’s about learning the performance.

        1. SL #2*

          Chris Evans has been pretty vocal about how he’s an introvert at heart and how he deals with his anxiety in massive social situations (press tours, premieres, comic-cons, etc). It’s really interesting to me, especially because for a lot of people, they don’t want to own up to being an introvert.

      2. alter_ego*

        yeah, my cousin is an incredibly shy extrovert, and I’m an incredibly outgoing introvert, we play off of each other well. There’s a lot of conflating between shyness and introversion, and I’m sure there’s some correlation, but it’s definitely not 1:1.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          My husband is a shy extrovert. I’m a non-shy introvert. It’s been fascinating to experience, because at first I was like, “If you need social interaction, go without me, I want to stay home in the bath and read a book!”

          But when I realized that he was extroverted but shy, I switched tactics. Now when he wants to join a club or meetup or something, I’ll go the first few times, until the ice has been broken (since I’m much more confident in the reaching out, making small talk, etc.), and then quietly taper off. He gets my non-shyness as a help to him breaking the ice, and once that’s done, I get the regular Tuesday evenings to eat Ben & Jerry’s in the bath all by myself!

          1. JeannieNitro*

            I love it. My husband and I are the same way. He is shy but craves interaction with people; I’m pretty friendly and outgoing (at least in small groups), but I get my fill of socializing pretty quick, and I often crave complete alone time, where there’s nobody even in the general vicinity.

            Strangely enough, we both have some measure of social anxiety, but his just makes him not want to talk or do things, but mine just makes me feel horribly embarrassed after the fact. It’s so interesting to see the various intersections of shyness, social anxiety, and intoversion/extroversion.

    2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      Same for me.

      Supersociable, great public speaker, no issues talking with strangers. But for SHORT periods of time.

    3. Arielle*

      Same. I have no problem with public speaking and I think I come across as a friendly, social person, and I’ve definitely had people not believe that I’m an introvert. The fact is that it takes me 1-2 days of sitting alone in my house on the weekends to be a functional person during the week. On the other hand, my fiance is a classic extrovert and works retail, and I could never, ever deal with that much interaction, especially with strangers, on a daily basis.

    4. Overeducated*

      I do question the definition of introvert/extrovert that depends on “where you get your energy” because I literally do not know one single person who would say “I never need time to myself to recharge” or “I hate being alone” or “I want to be in the midst of social interaction 100% of the time or I get really unhappy and tired.” I think that’s how people who follow the “recharge alone” definition of introverts are defining extroverts these days and it’s a pretty useless definition because everyone needs time to sleep, shower, watch some Netflix occasionally, etc., even if they do find social events energizing at other times. Nobody can be “on” all the time…including my extroverted salesperson sibling, who can work a 12 hour day, but then needs to just not talk to anyone for the rest of the night.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Well, I don’t think the ‘recharge alone’ thing means that the person wants to be socially stimulated 24/7. But I have seen a very distinct thing where my husband and I will go to a party, and he’ll come out of the party almost buzzing, like, do you want to watch a movie? order some pizza? go out? :D :D :D

        And I’ll be like “I want to SLEEP for about TEN HOURS” and he’ll be surprised.

        That’s what I’m thinking of.

        1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*


          Go to a party? FUN! But I wanna leave after an hour or two.
          Basically, I use up my social energy faster than extroverts.

      2. LQ*

        I know someone who doesn’t like doing laundry because it is a too lonely task (this is actually the reason).

        I think it is more of a spectrum thing than a 100% thing. But I think the people who really push all the way to the far sides of either scale exist. But like most human things we are on a spectrum and we also move on that spectrum.

      3. Oryx*

        It’s not about where you get your energy from — it’s about how you respond to being surrounded by the energy of other people.

        I’m a classic introvert. Too much social interaction drains me. I just got back from a conference with people that I like hanging out with but I always pay full price for a room on my own because I need that space away from other people after a day of hanging out with them.

        On the flip side, my sister is a classic social butterfly and loves meeting new people, interacting with them, etc. She thrives on it.

        Sure, we all exist on a spectrum and some people have the ability to flip back and forth but some people, myself included, do not have that ability.

      4. Lissa*

        I think the “recharge” definition is why suddenly it seems like everybody on the Internet is an introvert — by some definitions, they are, and since it’s getting a lot of positive attention these days there’s a lot to relate to. I don’t really define myself as either, but I could, you know…I also think it leads to the same people thinking they are surrounded by extroverts, because of course they only see their coworkers when they are around other people, not alone in PJs with Orphan Black, you know? So I think it’s easy by some definitions to think “I am an introvert, but everyone else is not!” Sort of like, comparing the inside of your head to the outside of everybody else’s head can make you think you’re the only “weird” one.

    5. ChristmasCarol*

      Johnny Carson was supposed to be quite an introvert in private life. Lots of stories about how he never went to Hollywood parties, and when he did he would spend the evening by himself in a corner…..but on camera he was a master of bringing out the best of his guests.

  22. Episkey*

    I’m an introvert at heart, but I’m actually great at small talk. I can talk to anyone…one time I had an entire conversation in the supermarket with a complete stranger about watermelons.

    I didn’t always used to be this way though, and you can learn to get better with it if you’d like to.

    First of all, I think you have got to get over your obvious feelings that small talk is a complete waste of time. You recognize it is limiting your career, but in the same breath, you refer to it in multiple negative connotations.

    Also, how are you socially otherwise? Are you shy, do you have social anxiety, etc? Because if so, I would try and work on those things first and conversation will naturally come easier to you if you overcome some of those factors. I was super shy as a kid and didn’t have a ton of confidence in myself, which I think hindered my ability for small talk. But introversion does not equal shyness/social anxiety — so it’s worth trying to examine yourself in that way.

    1. UnCivilServant*

      I’ve only gotten to the point where I’ve managed to replace the blunt “Who are you?” with “I don’t believe we’ve met, I’m ____” in work settings. I’d be trying hard to get away from some random stranger talking about melons in the market.

  23. JMegan*

    Introverts of the world, unite! Separately! In our own homes!

    I think the important thing to note is that it’s the behaviour itself that’s important, not the quality of it. So participating in the conversation is more important than what you say (barring outright hostility or rudeness, obviously.) Asking questions is absolutely the way to go. You can ask about…

    ~Plans for the weekend. And if someone asks you about your plans, there’s no requirement to be truthful if you don’t want to be. “Oh, not much, just stayed/staying home and did/doing laundry. Isn’t it amazing how you can never get on top of the laundry?
    ~Sports. Many, many people like to talk about sports! And again, you don’t have to care about them yourself in order to ask questions – there’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know anything about (the sports thing everyone is talking about.) Is your team doing well?”
    ~Kids, pets, families, hobbies. (Again, theirs rather than yours is fine)
    ~TV, movies, whatever special event is going on in your town this weekend.
    ~The weather.

    I’m with you in that I don’t love this type of conversation either. It feels very “light” to me, and on balance I’d really rather not do it if I didn’t have to. But like you, I’ve discovered that I do have to sometimes – the good news is that it’s a skill that you can learn like any other. Good luck!

    1. LawBee*

      My go-to sports comment: “well, [INSERT TEAM NAME HERE] needs to really work the defense, you know?” and then let the other person tell me why I am either wrong or right. :D it has a pretty solid success rate.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Hah, my father-in-law, who doesn’t remotely follow sports but who has to (for work purposes) socialize with people whose go-to conversation is sports, made up a list of things that you could throw into ANY sports conversation and sound coherent. Like your defense example. Or “how do you think injuries are gong to affect their performance in the next few games?” Like that. I thought it was pretty brilliant; there are almost no situations in which they fall flat.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Oh no, that’s dangerous. My follow-up question (as sports fan, but one that doesn’t follow the day-to-day details much) would be “Oh! Who’s injured?”

        2. Random Citizen*

          Do you have any more examples? Because that’s awesome and I am totally using it with my very sports-savvy coworkers. (And, hey, I love sports! And I love talking about them! I just usually don’t know enough of current sports happenings to have comments that make any sense.)

      2. MsMaryMary*

        I ask people for their opinion on [recent sport happening]. I live in a sports-obsessed city, so it’s easy to pick up personnel changes or trade rumors just by skimming Facebook or listening to the radio on the way to work. “What do you think about that coaching change?” or “Do you think they’ll make a move before the trade deadline?” give people an opportunity to rant and rave while I nod politely and say, “I know, right?”

      3. Pwyll*

        Perhaps rude on my part, but whenever get sucked into sports conversations at work, I respond with some variation of: “Yeah, (team) really needs to work on its sporting. If it just sported a little less we’d be able to turn this thing around.”

        People pretty much get the hint.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Hm. That… does sound pretty rude. You’re trying to say “This is a bad topic. Talk about something I’m more interested in,” right?

          I think a less-rude alternative would be something like “Well, that’s my cue. I’m soooo not a sports person, so I’m going to get back to the teapot report on my desk. Go team?”

          1. Pwyll*

            I really only resort to it one days when the local team has done something and I’ve been cornered on conversation number 6 about it. I work in a small enough office that people know I don’t know anything about sports (after my saying so similar to the way you mentioned), so they engage me in the conversation at their own peril.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            ….yeah. I’m not all that interested in sports, but I had a situation like that years ago when I said something about the new Star Wars movie, and the person said in a highly sarcastic tone, “I imagine there are still wars in the stars, then? Do tell.”

            I felt pretty judged; it was not a fun moment.

        2. LawBee*

          Probably would be better to just say “I actually don’t follow sports, so I have no idea” and then change the subject. I don’t mind having people talk sports at me, so I’m willing to fake it a bit.

        3. E, F and G*

          On the plus side, the line sounds like it would fit perfectly into The I.T. Crowd (Preferably the episode Are We Not Men).

  24. SRB*

    I think the key will be in changing your perception of “small talk”
    Small talk isn’t (necessarily) nattering or gossiping. It’s connecting in a small way with your co-workers. You can’t just launch into deep philosophical or emotional discussion at work – that would be weird. Think of it just like micro-interactions that may or may not have to do with work, and it becomes much easier to do.
    As an introvert working in, probably, a company of introverts, I try to find very non-committal subjects. Something the other person could answer either with one word or with a story, depending on how they are feeling. Things like:
    – How are the kids/fur-babies?
    – Have an exciting weekend?/Have any exciting plans for the weekend?
    – How is (X hobby that they like) going?
    – How’s your sportsball team doing?
    – How is the (X project) going?
    – Oh my gosh this weather.
    And then actually pay attention when they answer. It doesn’t have to last long. The point isn’t just to fill dead space, it’s to connect in some small way with a human being who is your coworker and also has interests that are not work.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      I’m glad I read all the comments before I basically wrote what you wrote here. OP, you have to change how you view relationship building and the tools you use to do that in the office. Small talk and chatting isn’t unnecessary in the workplace. If you want to build a relationship it’s absolutely vital. Changing how you view that and how you view people who use small talk is going to be key for you.

      Lots of us are picking up on a vibe that you think people who talk/gossip/natter are probably not as a good as… fill in the blank. If through the internet we are picking up on that then trust us that your coworkers are getting that vibe as well. I tend not to like people who display that they don’t like me.

    2. The IT Manager*

      This hits my small talk list – kids, weekend plans, weather, sports teams. I’d add movies / tv shows

      Honestly I don’t really care about my co-worker’s kids, but I ask about them and learn things about them because for some co-workers that’s their biggest non-work interest. For the other topics I usually find they provide a bit more give and take conversation, interesting, possibly applicable to my own life. “Oh, you liked/disliked that movie.” “You’re going to that event this weekend? That sounds fun.”

    3. Turtle Candle*

      As someone who is very much an introvert and who had to teach myself small talk, a few tips:

      – Neutral topics are your friends when you start out. Someone upthread mentioned “weather.” “How was your travel/commute?” is another easy one. These often seem boring and cliche, but they’re cliche for a reason: they work. And they often give you an insight into other things to make small talk about in the future: if someone says “I love the rain but it makes my dog miserable when I’m taking him for a walk,” or “the commute was awful, and I had to drop the kids off at day care first so I was going against traffic half the way,” then you know they have a dog or kids, which you can ask about later (again, in a light/neutral way, like “how’s the dog?” or “what are your kids up to lately?”).

      – Small talk doesn’t have to last long. I’m not even saying like “five minutes is plenty.” Often thirty seconds is plenty. “How was your commute?” / “There was an accident on the 405, it was backed up for miles!” / “Oh, that sucks! I got lucky, things were clear my direction,” smile, turn back to your work. It’s tiny, but it adds up. And knowing going into it that I don’t have to be stuck talking for fifteen minutes helps immensely.

      – The biggest secret: being interested in other people is hugely useful. Or faking it, if they genuinely bore you, but most people are more interesting than you might think. Most people LOVE talking about themselves. If all you do is ask questions and look attentive for two minutes, they’ll think you’re golden. I got rave reviews for being friendly and approachable at a company conference a few years back (and I am a SERIOUS introvert), and all I did was smile, ask people how their travel was or how they were enjoying the weather, what classes they were attending, smile again, and move on. Two minutes per person tops, but because I was expressing an interest in them, they were inclined to remember me positively.

      A lot of people, especially “smart” people, want to jump in with either a thoughtful or witty comment from moment one. But really, all that’s needed is a minute or maybe two of asking a question and looking not totally bored at the answer, and smiling before turning away.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Oops, didn’t mean this as a response to SRB! Although it agrees with a lot of their points, so it’s not a terrible place for it.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I think you made an excellent point in your last bullet: “most people are more interesting than you might think”. THAT’S the attitude you should bring to this: curiosity, interest, a willingness to be pleased. Misanthropy may make you feel superior, but it rarely makes you happy. (I mean the general “you”, not you in particular!)

        1. Turtle Candle*


          When I first moved to SoCal, someone told me that talking about traffic was the local equivalent of talking about weather. I thought it was a joke. Not so!

    4. Jessie*

      I would expand that and say make a mental note of asking about something specific they told you. If someone mentioned that they just painted their bedroom and now realize they hate the color, take a mental note and ask about that specifically: “Did you ever figure out what you’re going to do with the paint in your bedroom?” It’s easier than asking something general: “How are the kids” (which can sound awkward/forced if you don’t actually know the kids in question.) It’s okay to stretch the truth a little bit if you want to keep the conversation going. “Yeah, I always have a hard time imagining what the paint’s going to look like when finished. I know there’s software for that sort of thing, have you tried that?” even if you’ve never painted a room in your life.

      And it’s also totally cool to express ignorance about the subject as part of the conversation, especially when you use it to invite someone to explain their passion to you: “I know this is going to sound silly, but what actually IS the difference between the American League and the National League?” “I’ve never met someone who made chainmail as a hobby. What does it involve?” “Everyone keeps talking about Lebron and, to be honest, I’m totally ignorant about basketball. What makes him such a big deal?” That sort of thing. Genuine questions, not the stereotypical “Teehee! I don’t understand these things and aren’t I cute!” kind of questions.

  25. Meg Murry*

    One piece of advice for OP that I got once that I thought was good: learning to make conversation is kind of like learning to run, or learning to do something that takes a lot of concentration. When you first start out, 5 minutes of conversation can take everything out of you, just like the first time you try to jog you are winded after a few minutes. Eventually, you can work your way up to being able to have a sustained conversation for a while, just like you can learn to go for an X mile run, and after both then you can go collapse and feel exhausted. So like someone else said – pace yourself and challenge yourself. “Ok, today I’m going to go to the water cooler at 9:00 and chat with Jane for 5 minutes. Then I can escape and go back to the quiet of my own office.” “Ok, tonight I’m going to happy hour, and I will stay for 30 minutes and then I’ll leave” – etc.

    The other thing I noticed is that OP mentioned she’s fine with talking *about work*. So do that. Ask a co-worker “How is the Anderson case going?” or “So I heard you won the XYZ ABC case, congrats! What’s next?” or “”What do you think about the new electronic filing system? It’s taken some getting used to, but I think it’s really going to help with [blah]”. You don’t have to only chat about the weather or weekends or people’s pets – small talk about work is a good way to get to know your coworkers, and once you are comfortable talking to them about work you could move on to talking to them about more general things.

    I’m generally an introvert too, and meeting new people is really stressful to me – but I’ve taught myself to get past it, and I’ve learned which people are “my people” that I can talk to in a way that is comfortable for both of us and then we can get back to work.

    1. blushing anonymous*

      Ooh I want to jump in on your point about small talk about work.

      I’m a shy(ish — I’ve overcome a great deal of it as I’ve gotten older) introvert.

      One of my go-to small talk questions about work is “So how are things over in (Insert department or building here — or just ‘your neck of the woods” then make sympathetic noises/comments to their response. once in a while I learn about something going on that I can assist with or that can help me in my work.

  26. AtrociousPink*

    OP: From someone who almost could have written this exact letter, down to even the small details: You interview well, which means you read people well. You knew when one lawyer concluded you didn’t like him, and I bet it wasn’t because he told you. You’ve recognized how you might be hamstrung by your lack of small talk skills. These things all indicate you have a high level of awareness of yourself and of social cues. Those are powerful traits that will help you use Alison’s excellent advice on how to navigate the situation.

    Oh, and for the record: When my boss asks how my weekend was, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me because he doesn’t really give a fig about how I spend my off-hours and is just checking off the “made small talk with assistant today” box. Yet I smile and say something vague anyway. I’m not great at the game, but I do try to play.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I know, for me, the most effective thing to do is to turn the conversation around.
      “how was your weekend, Eddie?”
      *with enthusiasm!* “It was good, lovely weather. How was YOUR weekend?”
      *listen, plus extra questions or comments*

      Also, I’ve learned that I don’t mind listening to small talk, I’m just bad/uncomfortable MAKING it. So I try to do something with more than one coworker every week (lunch, a walk, fitness class). Then they can lead the conversation and feed off each other but I’m technically still involved and social :)

    2. Jessie*

      Ugh, yes. Always reminds me of the scene in Band of Brothers when CPT Dike is trying to make small-talk with his 1SG by asking him where he grew up, but walks away halfway through the answer.

  27. H.C.*

    As an introvert in a very extroverted field (PR/marketing—where I really only enjoyed the research & writing aspects of my job), I concur with the “fake it till you make it” camp. The small talk and banter will never feel completely natural, but the more you engage in it – the less uncomfortable you feel, especially as you learn the various cues that will trigger the extroverts to talk on and on with little additional input on your part, asides from the occasional acknowledgement and “oh, do tell me more.”

    Also, agree with others in not viewing these interactions as pointless. It definitely helps if you view them as micro investments in building better working relationships with your colleagues, and makes it that much easier when you need their help on your work projects (getting their input, expediting reviews/approvals, etc.)

    Lastly, as someone who loves baking (very therapeutic for my kind of introversion) – I definitely don’t mind bringing snacks to share with the office and building rapport that way too.

  28. AnitaJ*

    The disdain I read in this letter almost knocked me back. You think your coworkers are:
    – Chatty cathy nattering
    – Babbling
    – Uber educated type A men who like to think they’ll one day own the world
    – Chatterboxes who sometimes act to maneuver over my job boundaries when they realize they can
    Do you think that perhaps that attitude is coming across to your coworkers? Because it seems that you find their penchant for small talk a sign of their diminished intelligence. Or at least, that’s how it came across to me.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I saw it more like Cucumberzucchini and Alison say above – just a really colorful description of how she perceives things. But a lot of people have said the same thing, so it’s worth taking into account – because it’s easier to get out of your comfort zone here if you start with a positive attitude towards your coworkers.

      (from another introvert who understands the struggle!)

    2. Jessie*

      I read a slightly different tone, that the OP was explaining this was her natural reaction to their small talk, but wished it wasn’t.

  29. Anon4This1*

    Oh, wow, I could totally have written this letter, except that I’ve learned how to fake it and have been promoted up the ranks of this particular job function in my firm. I know exactly what this feels like down to being technically right but not internal-politics right. Where I guess I’ve been lucky is that speaking to client service, cost-savings/efficiency, and high quality work greases the skids where I can’t relate to their yacht/vacation home discussions (but can make friendly, “Wow, that sounds nice/beautiful/enjoyable!” noises when required).

    I treat knowing people’s kids names/ages, their pets, their hobbies, etc. like it’s part of the case file. I express sympathy when I know they’ve had a rough week due to the demands of the job. I try to have a short anecdote or two ready in case I need something light and chatty to respond to a question of theirs. It is work. It feels like a show. But it’s what has to be done in a relationship-based business like law. I have also earned myself some credibility points by doing a really damn good job for a number of years, and demonstrating that I care about the clients’ work. (And, here’s one benefit of feeling this way in legal as a non-attorney: There is always that line between Attorney/Non-Attorney. Attorneys are often not THAT interested in getting to know the staff. You can often get by with them on polite, professional, very competent, and client-presentable.)

    I have someone that reports to me who is more the attorneys’ “type” — golfs with them, runs in the same (more upper-crust) social circles, and I’m certain that if I left tomorrow, they would move that person into my job in a heartbeat, despite most of my job skills being superior. Relationship-building IS a job requirement of law firm admin management, and you have to decide if you want to invest in those skills and “perform” in order to move up.

  30. F.*

    As a true introvert, I found a couple of books helpful in my attempts to live in the extrovert-dominated world. “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World” by Marti Olsen Laney is very good. “Quiet” by Susan Cain has good ideas for surviving socializing and parties. I also recommend the Facebook page “Introverts are Awesome” for just general moral support.

    As for judging “small talk” as unnecessary (I used to be the same way), I have found that it can sometimes be a window into someone else’s life that on occasion opens up the opportunity for deeper conversation. And even if it never does, treating it as a necessary function of business life (like talking on the phone, another activity I find frustrating), helps me get through it. I think of it as Relationship Development as though it were an item on my performance review.

    Lastly, don’t let others define the feelings behind your reluctance to make small talk. Because you are not talking about your feelings, others will sometimes attribute feelings and attitudes to you that are not necessarily accurate. That is on them, not you. If you actually are feeling aloof or superior, then own it, but don’t let others tell you how you feel.

  31. CaliCali*

    Coming from a somewhat different angle – I’m an extrovert who isn’t great at small talk! Don’t get me wrong, I love talking with people, but I’m much better when it’s ABOUT something. That being said, I definitely caught a whiff of the judgmental tone here too. It can help to reframe it as part of those detailed tasks — this is the interpersonal quotient that’ll make your work life easier and more pleasant, because as people DO know you, they’ll also know the kind of work you like to do, and perhaps give you more of it (and leave you to it).

    Plus, people process differently – their five minutes of chit-chat may give them the break they need to delve into a really sticky project, or it may be the way they’re greasing the wheels of social interaction so when they need help from a coworker, it’ll seem more collegial and less like a demand. Not in a manipulative way, but in a “let’s make all our lives easier” way. Thinking of it as an overall work strategy to make their days better may help you to understand its value.

  32. W*

    I am an extreme introvert, but I have worked hard to be able to appear as mostly extrovert when the situation requires it. Not easy.

    OP, is there any chance there’s someone at your work that is also an introvert and hates the social game, but has gotten pretty good at it? Could you confide in them and ask for some help in those situations at work? If you have just one ally that knows your real self and that you are trying to gain this new skill, they may be able to help you in a group conversation or help you find things to talk to others about.

    Also, you describe yourself as artsy. Do you have any of your own work displayed? I ordered a cell phone case out of one of my paintings, and it’s a huge conversation starter. It gives people something they feel like they know about me and a way to reach out that I’m reasonably comfortable talking about.

  33. UnCivilServant*

    I have a distinct mental image from these comments. Given the sheer number of introverts providing strategies on faking it, I’m suddenly imaginging the room filled with people making idle chatter not realizing we’d all rather just quietly shuffle off into our respective domains…

    1. Anon4This1*

      I think the bias is the comments-forum medium. The extroverts are all chatting in the coffee room, we’re hanging out here in our low-risk, optional-participation, asynchronous chat. :)

      1. Mimmy*

        That’s a really good observation. I can be introverted and even a little shy. I do enjoy being around other people but my tolerance can be somewhat low. Online discussions can get long and tiring too, but at least you can do that at your own leisure. With face-to-face, I’m terrible at hiding my increasing antsy-ness when a topic runs long.

      2. LQ*

        Agreed. I’m better at this than the small talk. Partly because in some parts of my brain this is more valuable (not actually true, but your brain is your brain) and partly because it is so very on my own terms.

        I’m also much better when I’m doing things like chatting at home when I can wear whatever I want or adjust the heat, or go on mute and make a horrible growling sound when I’m crabby about someone, or just be home in my nice safe apartment, and the go away button is right there. In person? No go away button. So things like even playing video games online with voice chat? Way easier than in person stuff.

    2. GovWorker*

      But I actually enjoy the interaction while it is happening, I’m not shy at all. I find people interesting and talking to them is a lot easier if you can take the focus off of yourself. I am just as happy though to work at home, which avoids a lot of small talk, but not all.

      1. GovWorker*

        Oh, I don’t think much of people who pass you in the hall and act like they don’t see you. That’s just rude in my book. A nod or something goes a long way in not seeming like an unfriendly iceberg.

  34. Pwyll*

    I used to work with someone similar to OP. She was nice, but interactions with her about anything non-work related were awkward. If you asked chit-chatty questions in the kitchen, you’d pretty much just get one word answers. Talk to her about work, though, and she was extremely passionate and interesting. Still, our sales team thought she was rude and frigid. And she was pretty happy to avoid them entirely.

    Then, one day, her secret was revealed. Someone was discussing yesterday’s episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (dating myself, I know) and she bolted out of her office like nothing I’ve ever seen. “I COULDN’T BELIEVE WHEN BUFFY blah blah blah” came spilling out of her mouth. So then, our weekly ritual was to stand around first thing in the morning after episodes drinking our coffee and discussing. Even people who only observed this practice seemed to think more positively of her. Or maybe I just liked finding another Buffy fan.

    All that is to say, find the thing you ARE interested that coworkers are discussing, whether that’s a TV show, or books, or concerts or whatever, and the socialization won’t be nearly as awkward or forced.

    1. schuylersister*

      That is a great story. I, too, have been known to fly out of cubicles at the mention of Buffy (or anything I love, I’ll be honest).

  35. Maxwell Edison*

    Seconding everyone who suggested asking questions and then letting the other people talk. Most of them will be so happy to talk about something of interest to them that they won’t notice that they’re doing all the talking.

    I have some social anxiety and have found that treating these interactions like an acting exercise helps. It’s not the real Maxwell Edison engaging with people – it’s my persona. If you can have some sort of prop or something you wear that gives you confidence and helps you connect with that persona, use it.

  36. Government Worker*

    Alison’s right that the need to make small talk varies a lot by office. I started a new job with a government agency recently, and while there’s plenty of small talk, there are more people here who opt out of it than there have been at previous jobs – certainly there are more people who keep to themselves and just get their work done than I’ve seen in most client-facing private sector roles. So if you’re just not a good fit for your office right now, maybe think about broadening out to look at different parts of your industry for a different work culture.

    My hypothesis is that those super-irritating structured panel interviews that government agencies are so fond of actually do a pretty good job of leveling the playing field and bringing more diversity (of personality type as well as demographic characteristics) into the workplace. They’re far from perfect for many other reasons, but I like that my office feels like I can build strong relationships based almost solely on my work and work-focused conversations.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Diversity….that’s a kind way to put it. It certainly attracts a variety. I am a federal employee and my own experience has been that my agency seems to attract people with limited/borderline terrible social skills. The ones, like you, who wish to be left alone, usually present themselves early on and I oblige. That sounds mean….I don’t mean it like that.

      And I think your advice is great. If the environment isn’t a good fit, it may be time to look elsewhere. Govt. is definitely a place where you can come in, keep your head down, do good work with limited social interaction, and still get promoted to a decent level.

  37. MsMaryMary*

    My other piece of advice, OP, is to watch your body language and how you respond to people when you’re at the office in general. Just smiling and nodding at someone when you pass them in the hallway, or saying hi/hey/good morning when you run into someone in the break room can make a difference in how you’re perceived. When someone comes to your desk or calls your phone, are you visibly annoyed (or noticably unenthusiastic) at the interruption?

    Trying to change your body language/expression to be friendlier may feel just as fake or awkward as trying to make small talk, but it can really change how your perceived. You can go from “Jane? I think she hates me” to “Jane? Nice person, a bit quiet, though.”

  38. CanadianKat*

    On Mondays, the easy conversation starter is to ask the person about their weekend. (Weather is also safe, – “So happy for this rain – won’t have to water this grass! Do you have a garden to take care of?”) If they’re busy, they answer monosyllabically, so that you know that chatter at this particular momemt is not required – you’re off the hook. If not, they’ll start describing what they did, and all you have to do is feed them questions every once in a while. Listen to what they say – if they say “golf”, ask whether they golf a lot and when. If they mention kids, you can ask all kinds of questions about ages, activities, etc.

    After the conversation is over, you can jot down particulars of their personal life (e.g. names/ages/professions of siginifcant others, activities/hobbies, plans, etc.) and next time start out with a more personalized question (“Did you get a chance to golf this weekend? How’s Martha doing with her piano lessons? How’s that garage cleanup project going?”).

    When people reveal personal stuff about themselves, it may even make you more comfortable revealing similar things about you. And if not, they’ll be happy to have found a good listener.

    I’m an introvert, and I’ve learned to chit-chat well enough for a 5-minute conversation. (Without having to talk about sports – which I neither care for nor know nothing about, or movies/TV – my tastes aren’t shared by many).

  39. Sara M*

    Lots of hugs! I’m an extrovert who _loves_ helping introverts out. Do you think you have someone like me in the office that you can confide to? If I were there with you, I’d help out. I’d help draw you into good conversations with coworkers and give you practice, and rescue you when you needed it. This works way better than it sounds. Please trust me on that.

    So give some thought to whether anyone at work can help. They may also be a good person to tell coworkers you’re very shy but a good person. (It can work wonders to get everyone else to understand you!)

    You’re not looking for a gossip or blabbermouth. Just a compassionate sociable coworker who genuinely likes people. Good luck–you can do it!

    1. Oryx*

      My friend Kelly did this at a conference, going all around saying “Do you know my friend Oryx?” and introducing me to people. She still apologizes for it years later but if I didn’t have her I would have spend the whole weekend hiding in a corner.

    2. Kai*

      Thank you for being one of these people! My coworker at my new job is like this and she was such a huge help to me the first few weeks.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      I totally read that answer as you were an extrovert who was willing to hug the introvert and help them become more like you! :) It startled me until I realized I was reading it wrong. I was imagining a human Chubby Huggs (from the Get Fuzzy comic strip).

  40. Chriama*

    I guess to me that what OP describes as introversion, I’m seeing more of a lack of empathy. You don’t want to get to know your coworkers, or talk to them. I know some people have trouble with relationships – either it’s someone you’re friends with or not friends, and they don’t get the concept of being friendly-but-not-friends. In this case though it kind of sounds like you just don’t like your coworkers, or at least are not interested in getting to know them better. Humans are social creatures though, and we form relationships by proximity. One of the ways to form/increase relationships is by talking to each other. So can you try framing it to yourself like that? It’s not about having inane small talk with a bunch of “nattering chatterboxes”, it’s about forming friendly relationships (which are not the same thing as friendships!) with the people you see every day and whose cooperation you need on various occasions.

    On the other hand, law firms are kind of notorious for aggressive type A people. Not liking that behaviour doesn’t really have much to do with being an introvert. So it’s possible that you don’t like your coworkers because some of them are just unlikeable. Just don’t confuse being an introvert with being unwilling or unable to form relationships with people.

    1. MK2000*

      I agree. I don’t think that this situation has anything to do with introversion. I’m super introverted, but my coworkers are my favorite aspect of my job and I love getting to know them. What makes me introverted is that I need time to recharge alone if I’ve spent a lot of time interacting with people, particularly if I have to do any performative tasks like giving presentations.

    2. Alton*

      I don’t know if it would be fair to call it an empathy issue in general, but yes, I was thinking something similar, that the OP might not feel like they fit into the work environment.

      I’ve been in jobs where I really felt like I didn’t fit in at all and where I had very little in common with most of my coworkers, and it’s easy to become negative and uncharitable in that context. It takes a lot more work to be social.

      1. Chriama*

        I don’t mean empathy in the sense of not being a sympathetic person, but in the sense of caring about other people and identifying with them. She talks about not identifying with their conversations, but these conversations are the medium for telling you about who they are as a person. So being unable to relate to a question like “how was your weekend”, at some level, is about not seeing them as a 3d person who lives and laughs and cries like you do. This isn’t to accuse the OP of being heartless but to point out that this is the point of conversation and if she can frame it like that then maybe it takes some of the mystery out of it and also help her understand why it matters to people and why it makes a difference.

  41. Vera*

    I think there is something to the “holding you back” part… but first, a story:

    I recently interviewed a candidate for a role. The panel from my company was myself and 3 executives (a rung or two above me). I thought the interview went great and though the candidate was a great fit. The executives, however, all unanimously had concerns over his answer to the “what is your weakness” question. His answer was that he was an introvert, and that while he could “turn it on” for an interview, a tradeshow, and presentation, etc. that he otherwise prefers to work independently and can struggle to build relationships with coworkers on a non-work-related basis. I thought this was incredibly honest of him to say and I didn’t take much issue with it, given how he was presenting himself at the interview.

    I was really shocked and concerned that all the executives though the introvert comment was a “dealbreaker”. They insisted that being an extrovert was critical for this role. I had to explain to everyone that I, myself, was an introvert and I felt I shared many of the characteristics the candidate described. They all looked at me like I had two heads…. “What? You, an introvert?? No way!! Never!”. To which I had to explain, yes, this is what turning it on looks like. I don’t think I changed their mind, but I do hope I opened their eyes a bit.

    To Alison’s point – it does seem like this can hold you back depending on your organization. Now that you are aware of it, do your best to combat it. I usually make an effort to do the “good mornings” and “have a great days”, say hello in the elevator, ask about their weekend plans, and try my best to remember what people said they were going to do over the weekend and ask about it on Monday. I’ll never remember children’s names and ages, or spouses, or pets, but that’s a separate issue entirely :)

    1. Lady Blerd*

      If Allison ever has a “tell us about the interview you blew” thread, here’s mine that intersects with my introversion: As a teen I interviewed to be a game concession person at an amusement. Here’s where I think my name was crossed off the prospect list: when asked if I could call out at passersby to come play at my stand, I stand. The interviews asked: “Really”? I say no again.

      25 years later, I still shake my head thinking about it but at the time, the idea of all of that interaction was too much for me.

  42. Chriama*

    Another thing – I would call myself an extrovert but I’m pretty bad at small talk. I volunteer with kids ministry and sometimes I found it hard to connect with kids, especially when there would be 1 kid sitting on the sidelines. The kids pastor at the time told me about how she prepares a list of conversation topics she can use with kids and parents. Literally, she has topics like school with questions like favorite/least favorite subject and follow up questions like why do you like ‘a’ more than ‘b’ or what was an interesting project this week.

    People like to talk about themselves so if you have a few topics and follow up questions you can basically have the other person carry the entire conversation with only a few prompts from you. Maybe you can try coming up with a couple of those topics and try them out on coworkers on a one-on-one basis until you feel comfortable enough to participate in group conversations.

    1. CMart*

      Agree with everything you say here. I’m someone who really enjoys being around people and feeling like I’m part of something, but I’m not super great at the people-ing part. I forget to ask questions (“Hey CMart, how was your weekend?” “Oh it was great! I did a thing and saw a thing and it was all fun! See you later!”) and I’m not good at reciprocating initiating friendly banter.

      It’s a skill, just like anything else, regardless of how much you like people. Being prepared and practicing will slowly lead to being able to improvise.

      1. Chriama*

        Reciprocating! That’s it — I’m great at talking about myself, my opinions, etc. But I’m not great at drawing other people out and listening to them. It’s something I’m more aware of now, but suffice to say that small talk is something that doesn’t come easily to people of all versions.

  43. mirinotginger*

    This is so me! I am the exact same way. I’m sure all the other readers have excellent advice, as did Alison, so I’ll just add: If you’re worried that your lack of being chatty makes people think you don’t like them, just make sure that all your other interactions are pleasant. I’m very introverted, and have a horrible case of RBF, so if I’m not careful, I look like I’m just at my desk scowling all the time. If coworkers come by, I make sure to smile and be extra engaged if they talk to me. Not overly chatty, just making eye contact, having a more positive expression, etc. Even if people walk by and make eye contact, a smile or little wave will help take you from “person who never talks and hates me” to “nice person who doesn’t talk very much”.

  44. Dweali*

    I wonder about OPs tone during social interactions…I’m extremely socially awkward (as in a director yawning and saying something about the day being almost over got my reply as “sometimes at night my cat jumps on me and keeps me awake”) it ends up giving me fantastic stories to tell people (especially new team members who are super nervous around this director-because they will never be the cat person who’s kept awake all night) but I’ve found it’s all about the tone/body language when you respond…’good morning’ gets a cheerful ‘good morning’ back with a smile that reaches the eyes…if it’s being interrupted then making sure I stop what I’m doing and look the person in the eyes/forehead area, etc.

    I also have no idea how to small talk with people I don’t know well (you’re very likely to get ‘boy that weather…it sure is weathery…’ or never having spoken to you before and I’ll do some sort of abrupt change of topic (ie movies to Iceland or instead of hello it’s I joined a gym and almost choked at the membership price) and top that off with just walking away because while I can tell the conversation is over or getting there I’m not quite sure how to gracefully end it.

    Anyways all that to say OP you study these people the same way I do my coworkers just every once in a while chip in a piece to the conversation..Mark and Tom talking about the vacation Tom just took? Throw in something about that area (trivial knowledge, or maybe you’d like to go around there someday, if you’ve been there maybe share what liked) or if throwing into the conversation is too daunting then after listening to a couple of coworkers talk about whatever when they’ve gone their separate ways then go up to the most approachable person and talk about it too….social interactions are one of those things that you gotta practice a bit (for me anyway) and fake it till you make it

    1. Marisol*

      I can TOTALLY relate to making a comment that seems nonsequitous to the listener but which in fact, does have a logical connection that I am just not able to explain in time. So when the director yawned, you thought of your experience of being sleepy, and I guess you could have transitioned to your idea by saying something like, “you look like I do after my cat keeps me awake at night by jumping on me,” and the connection would have been clear, but instead you just verbalized the thought you had. Is that it? Sometimes I do things like this, often assuming the connection will be obvious. I have an introverted streak and I think because I live in my head, I inadvertently assume others do to…

  45. LQ*

    You’ve gotten some good words of wisdom but I’m going to throw my own in. I’m pretty deep on the introvert scale.

    I think of small talk as a part of my job. It isn’t something fun I get to do. But neither is filling out my time sheet or doing required annual training. Sometimes your job is a job. And building relationships is part of your job. It is something you need to do to accomplish the tasks that your job requires.

    I find setting up times each week to chat with people helps (when I’m really stressed out and being very introverted I’ll put it on my calendar **as a private appointment so no one sees “Ask Wakeen about Wakette’s birthday”). But most of the time I’ll just try to make a point to stop by the desks of the people I most need on my side occasionally. (I also do things like I’ll sometimes buy a coffee – not often – when someone is clearly having a super bad day. Keeping a list of people’s normal coffee order’s in my phone makes that easy, but you can stop by and ask too, and done judiciously seems to really help.)

    As for sharing your own things you don’t need a lot, and for me I didn’t want to share because I didn’t want to share personal information, the trick is most people don’t want the things I consider personal information, the real deep and personal stuff? They want like your one cute anecdote about going to breakfast and seeing a cute puppy. You don’t need to tell them that you spent the weekend going through your grandmother’s old photo albums and are feeling very conflicted because you love her but she was horribly racist and that made you feel uncomfortable and you aren’t sure how to process it. Don’t give that anecdote. Go for the cute puppy. Go for facts. I went out for breakfast and had the benedict and there was a very well behaved puppy at the table next to me. And when I really dove into doing this? I would prepare my anecdotes Sunday night.

    I’m also going to say that for an introvert I feel like it is a bit easier to stay at one job longer rather than jump around. I’ve been at this job long enough that people know I’m introverted, they know if I have to spend a week doing nothing but meetings that the next week I’ll go and block a room to sit in by myself and they should maybe leave me to get work done. They know I’m excellent at what I do. It’s the lazy introvert’s way.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      +1 to thinking of small talk as part of your job. I would liken it to decorating your workspace–you technically don’t have to do it at all, and doing it too much is a little off-putting, but doing it a small to moderate amount will really pay off.

      (I don’t want to disregard the possibility that the OP’s law office culture is making small talk seem unappealing and unusually insincere and ill-intended–I feel like that might be playing a big role. The broader conversation is still interesting though.)

  46. Lady Blerd*

    (OP, this isn’t aimed at you, just something I’ve been wanting to shout into the void for a long while now).

    I loved it at first when I started seeing all of the articles and listicles on social media about how to be around us. Finally, people can understand us! But honestly now I’m getting tired of it. Maybe it comes from proudly owning my introversion yet also understanding that having some awkward social interaction once in a while won’t kill us. I feel that some of us are using this as an excuse to refuse to evolve out of our shell even a little. Again, I say that as someone who socializes as little as possible outside of work hours and who does find extroverts to be taxing. Ok I’m good now.

  47. schuylersister*

    The OP’s “nattering chatty cathy” description made me cringe. I tend to be a pretty smiley, chatty type person (everywhere, not just in the office), but I also try not to bug people who don’t seem interested. OP…seems like my cubicle neighbor. I’ve always been polite but not invasive to her, and I know she occasionally will talk to certain other people in the department, but I’ve rarely seen someone act quite so cold in an office setting. When I was hired on permanently (after being a temp for six months), my boss called a quick meeting to announce it to the small group of people who also do the same type of job (four people). I got a congratulations from everyone else (polite to enthusiastic), and nothing at all from her. Not even a pleasant look. At all. Ever. I’d like to think that it’s just that she’s one of those people who really hates talking to coworkers and that she probably has a very nice life and friends outside of work…but damn. I’ve never seen someone look so pissed all. the. time. and sigh constantly at her desk. When I stop to ask other coworkers about their lives or talk about mine, I’m just constantly aware of her in the next cubicle and imagine her judging the hell out of me for being a “chatty cathy.” I realize it’s more my problem than hers, but…people can tell when you disdain them like that.

  48. BPA212*

    I have this problem but with slight variations. I’m an introvert and tend to be pretty quiet in general but I think I’m pretty good at small talk once I get going. The conditions have to be perfect though. For example, I don’t know how to initiate small-talk. I don’t make coffee and usually buy my lunch (so I’m never in the office kitchen) so when I’m new to an office, I don’t know how to approach people to get to know them. It feels awkward to just randomly walk up to people’s desk and ask how they’re doing. For that reason, it usually takes me a long time to become friendly with my coworkers who I don’t necessarily interact with through my work. Also, this might seem like a given but the person I’m talking with has to at least be receptive to my attempts to make small-talk (or maybe it’s not given some of the comments above from commentors like unCivilServant). If I get one word answers to questions like “How as your weekend?” then I just give up. This is actually one of the reasons I hate my new job. I don’t actually work with any of the people I share an office with and when I do try to get to know them I get nothing in return. I feel like such a weirdo here because I literally talk to no one all day but I know I’m not. Ugh.

  49. Reba*

    The NYMag team really has a way with stock photos. I love what they are doing with the column!

  50. Decimus*

    I can only speak for myself but I hate ‘small talk’ because I don’t find it a social lubricant FOR ME. Most people sit there and talk about favorite sports teams, how their kids are doing, that time they went to the beach, and I sit there and think about how I have no interest in any of that at all. I mean all I can say if asked about the beach is how I burn in 15 minutes with sunscreen and never go near one if I can help it. And if, say, I’m asked about my upcoming vacation and say “I’m taking a guided tour of Cathar castles in southern France” or “we’re thinking about walking the Roman limes in Germany” I get a “what?” response from people. So while I have gotten better about faking it, I find it incredibly, incredibly tiring and it tends to make me feel I really don’t have anything in common with the people near me.

    1. JMegan*

      Aw, that’s too bad that you end up feeling like you don’t have anything in common with the people you’re talking to! Sounds like they struggle with small talk too. After all, it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with “Oh, what are the Roman limes?” or “I’ve never been to Germany, but I’ve always wanted to go!” or even “Oooh, castles! That sounds like fun!”

      It’s just conversation, really, but I think a lot of us overthink it. I’m glad the OP wrote in – I had no idea how many people feel as challenged as I do in this kind of situation!

    2. LQ*

      I agree about this. Though I’ve never had fancy vacation travels but I don’t want to talk about the things I actually do in my time off. But I do have things I can find in life. “The grocery store was super crowded.” “Oh it was because there was a big game at 2 pm, you should have gone at 3 instead of 1!” Then next week they’ll stop by and say, “Hey, make sure you get groceries after 5 on Sunday because it’s a late game.”

      Do I feel close to them as human beings? No, but I can count those people on one hand. Did we just have a little bit of interaction that will likely make them more pleasant to work with in the future and they did a nice thing for me so I don’t end up at the crowded grocery story? Yup. And that can be enough.

      We all human differently and that means sometimes to make things work we need to find a way to human with others in a way that works for them. And yes, sometimes they’ll human in a way that works for you too. Those people are the ones you want to hang onto in my experience.

    3. Chickaletta*

      You don’t have to have similar interests to have a conversation about something. The next time someone brings up a topic you know nothing about, ask more about it! For me, the more I know about something, the more interesting it is. For example: one time I was really bored at work and happened to find a website about which NFL teams were at the top and why. Usually I don’t give two shits about sports, but I started checking it every week, and for the rest of the season I was able to talk about which underdog teams had a shot at the playoffs and why another team was overrated, etc. It was actually interesting; I actually started to care. You can do this with other topics too. “How’s Sally liking fifth grade?” can lead to a conversation about the merits of common core or which boy band is popular at the moment or whatever. And the next time someone gives you a blank look when you mention your interests, fill them in! I just got back from a month in Indonesia and lots of people I talk to can’t even find it on the map, let alone name one of the islands or tell me what language is spoken there. Sometimes they’re fearful for my safety (which is ironic, considering the events of the past month her at the US), so I tell them why I felt like it was a very safe country to visit. I keep in mind an interesting anecdote or two to make my stories more interesting to someone who knows nothing about it. You can do the same with your topics. Perhaps you could talk about the food you ate, or the history of the Roman limes, or treachery of air travel and so on, depending on what the person you’re talking to takes an interest in.

  51. Marisol*

    Here is some practical advice for the OP, or anyone else wanting to become more comfortable socializing. Look up EFT tapping. It’s basically tapping on acupressure points on the body, while making statements about the issue you want to change. It sounds like new age baloney, but it works and it’s so easy to learn and do that there is nothing to lose by giving it a try. Just google it!

  52. Alix*

    Hah, I am super introverted, and yet work is the only time I seem to be able to manage small talk – and well, apparently, since I had at least one coworker convinced I was an extrovert. Put me in a non-work social situation and ask me to talk, and I’m cringingly awkward, but at work it’s like a switch gets flipped.

    I think, personally, part of what helps is I don’t think of it as “small talk.” It’s just part of the job. In the case of jobs I’ve held, it’s been largely about putting the customer at ease, or helping the student open up some. Framing it that way helps it move from “awkward form of socializing I can’t do” to “communication with a purpose,” which apparently is what I need to actually speak to people. Also, not thinking of it as “small talk” – i.e. something that’s easy to dismiss – keeps you from looking at it, and the people who engage in it, with disdain. They’re not wasting time on small talk, they’re having meaningful interactions that serve x purpose.

  53. Kiki*

    You know, for about $12/month, Toastmasters will teach you how to approach people. What I learned from going to meetings for about a year is: (1) most folks feel the same way and are just happy YOU broke the ice and (2) You only need enough material to get started, then just riff on whatever they say. It’s actually a lot easier than you think, and I’m actually more of an introvert than you probably think I am. But I am now the one in the long line that gets everyone chatting…

    1. Kiki*

      I should add, it’s never about what you are interested in. It’s what they are interested in telling you about themselves. I once chatted up an 11 year old who was extremely painfully shy. How? He was into Pokemon so I kept asking him the character’s stories. I really really do not care about Pokemon, but I got some great experience with a difficult conversation partner. What a great day.

  54. radmouse*

    OP, I am also an introvert in a field filled with type A personalities (Medicine). And while I can chat with people to a certain point, small talk is also difficult for me. But here’s something to put it all in perspective: if you ever need to change jobs (for whatever reason, moving, etc.) you will need references from your current workplace. And the better those letter writers know you, the more informed and genuine that letter will be. An unintended (but greatly valued!) result of the small talk I made with a colleague at my last job is that we became friends, and his kindness has opened professional doors for me that would not have been plausible otherwise. I understand where you are coming from, but realize that many humans enjoy the validation of being acknowledged, having a social presence, etc., and that occasionally, you will find true friends in the process…

  55. nerfmobile*

    I am an introvert, and I am also shy (although much less than I used to be). Small talk is a totally learnable skill. I gradually got better at it after college, but what really helped me a lot was grad school where I learned how to conduct ethnographic research. That method of qualitative research is all about listening to people and asking questions to keep them talking about a particular topic, and it turns out to be pretty handy in the social realm as well. So with those skills I can keep other people talking for a long time. And when they do get tired of talking about themselves and ask me questions, I usually have a topic-du-jour I can tell a “never-ending story” about until they give up and go do something else. For instance, I recently bought a car. That was good for about two months of talking about my research and what I was looking for and test drives and choosing options and how I made my choice and how the new car was once I got it… Vacations, gardening, movies, or books can also be good extensible topics that can be milked for multiple conversations with various people for a time.

    I always used to hate to talk because I felt like I was wasting the other person’s time and that they wouldn’t be interested. But then I realized it doesn’t matter if I feel like I am blathering on about something. If people are interested (in the topic, or in making a social connection), they will listen for a time. If they have better things to do, then my saying anything at all is good enough to acknowledge their existence, and then they will wander off and leave me in peace.

  56. TychaBrahe*

    The thing is, small talk is a skill, not an inherited attribute. People that look like they do it naturally were generally raised around other people who were good at it and learned how. As such, though, it’s something you can practice and get better at. There was a very interesting discussion on Reddit the other day about it, and this subthread in particular stood out to me.


  57. hamster*

    Op i don’t know the work you are up to but schmoozing, it can be hugely useful.. I am perhaps on the middle ground on introversion-extroversion scale e. As a young engineer i was holding my introvert card up ( it was cool , we are SUPPOSED to be anti-social you know, i m not a girly girl, i would rather be a joan jett type ) and be like all annoyed at this noise until i realised i was actually better of due to my loopsided socializing ( i was grown up well , i don’t mumble and keep the conversation flame alive for smalltalk) . I found out things i wouldn’t have otherwise. I heard things from the customers before they actually filed a report/ticket. I got helps with my avenues of work. My ex boss had a “guy ” for anything ( taylor, jewlerrry/glasses repairs , car repairs, trusted dentist etc) . I heard stuff about what other people find useful/interesting in a report/memo/landing-page . I found out the hottest board-games accepting cafe in towns . I learned new stuff from guys in different departments who solved stuff similar to mine. Book suggestions . Courses that are useful to take :) Who to call when the office is flooded. Etc and more. Bottom line if you make an effort to connect with people and genuinely share with them you can actually be more efficient /mobile in a company because lots of times people will be incline to answer an e-mail from Anya-the-girl-who-optimized-her-lunch-order-via-a-clever-excel than from anya the skulky sysadmin with dark braids and concert t-shirts.

  58. Maria*

    Anyone feeling like this should read Susan Cain’s “Quiet”. It was life changing, and I don’t throw that term around.

  59. Tea*

    I feel like a bit of an anomaly, as I’m a hugely social introvert. After too much socialization, I need to recharge, lay flat in bed, put in earplugs and not say a word to anyone for hours to whole days, but I handle all of my office’s client communication and make tons of small talk with clients and other professionals.

    It comes easily to me now, but only after years of practice after being an awkward turtle and HATING it, being afraid I’d never make any friends and throwing myself into starting awkward conversations and talking to new people to realize… people are so cool! People have whole worlds inside of them that I can’t even imagine. Even if their worlds and mine don’t overlap, don’t even touch, that doesn’t mean I can’t look through the window briefly and marvel.

    For the OP, one technique that I used while trying to adjust myself to balancing on the casually expressing interest/projecting a friendly air/not being obnoxiously pushy or rude and aloof tightrope is to think of every new person I have to speak with as some new, interesting species of animal that I’m curious about*. Now, I want to find out more about them– what do they eat? what do they like? what has them excited and happy? but I don’t want to scare them off like someone making a grab at a skittish cat or an animal photographer throwing themselves on an alligator to get a better picture. And thinking of myself as an explorer, an adventurer, someone seeking out new knowledge while not disturbing the wildlife, helps me reframe the situation so it’s not “Oh boy, it’s me having the same dull unimportant conversation with client #445 today about things that don’t concern me and I couldn’t give a rat’s patootie about.”

    *This is a frame of mind for social interactions I HAVE to engage in and want to build a good rapport for; I don’t go pursuing random people to find out all about them because that would be annoying as heck for all parties involved

  60. C Average*

    I had a former colleague who I always assumed was an extrovert based on the way he interacted with people; it was only once I began working closely with him that I began to notice how often he’d work in his office with the lights out so that he wouldn’t be interrupted and could have quiet time to focus, and that he exhibited some other introvert traits.

    He had this thing he’d do where he would walk around the office each afternoon and chat for a few minutes with people. He’d sometimes have an excuse–he was headed to get coffee, or he wanted to ask someone a question, or he was stuck on a project and wanted to step away from it for a few minutes. Sometimes he’d just half-jokingly say, “I want to make sure I actually know all the people I work with” or “I’m promoting serendipitous connections.” Then he’d ask about your projects or your kids or your marathon training or how you liked those Seahawks or whatever.

    When I actually stopped to think about it, I don’t recall him being especially outgoing aside from this brief daily tour of the office, but that routine alone made him seem friendly and approachable. All joking aside, I’ve no doubt that it really did create serendipitous connections; when it came to projects, he was always the guy who knew someone in another department who would turn out to be a key resource.

    In my last couple of years at my former company, I stole his approach. Once a day, I’d pound my afternoon coffee, put on my figurative extrovert costume, and walk around the office and say a few words to any of my colleagues who didn’t seem absorbed by their work and who looked like they might want to chat for a moment or two. It got easier and easier, to the point where it was actually downright enjoyable! It never stopped feeling a little contrived . . . but it worked.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I worked with, and was briefly managed by, a very serious, very focused man. Except for Friday afternoons. On Friday afternoons, a person we called Friday Rob would appear. Monday – Friday at noon, Rob was all business. Come Friday afternoon, he would suddenly become chatty, tell stories, make jokes, and engage in the best gossip (the kind where you get good stories about upper managment or why Super Important Project was suddenly put on hold, not the nasty personal kind). I don’t know if he hit a wall on Friday afternoon, or if it was a deliberate effort to bond with us, or both. Regular Rob was a good guy and a great boss (supportive but prompted you to figure out as much as you could on your own), but Friday Rob was the best.

      Two Weeks Notice Rob was a trip. He got through most of his transitional stuff with room to spare, and the rest of the time was Friday Rob + some extra whimsy. He built a house of cards with his leftover business cards (“well, never gonna use these again”).

  61. Collingswood*

    OP, I can relate both about the being bad at small talk and working at a law firm. Here are a few of the things I found helpful:

    Making an effort to make small talk with a few people a week. Maybe something as small as smiling and saying good morning, or talking about the weather, etc. I felt like that helped me get more in the habit of making an effort.

    Realizing that I don’t have to be interesting. I think one of the things I struggled with was worrying that what I could think of to say wasn’t going to be funny or interesting. But when I reframed tbe issue as being more “I’m making an effort to show I am interested in someone as a person and would like to develop a rapport with them,” it helped me see that I didn’t have to be interesting. Just friendly and making an effort. Most people seem totally okay talking about the weather.

    For group networking events, I’ve found it helpful to pair up with a chattier friend and work the event together, since they were often good at starting conversations that I could contribute to, which removed some of my concern about being interesting. I also found that it often works well to approach people who are standing alone at events. Many times they are happy to have someone to talk to.

    Finally, having an activity you share with coworker may help you with having something to say and give you an opportunity to get involved in good natured banter. Maybe consider playing along with a fantasy football contest or something similar. People love to tease each other about who is doing better. Again, you don’t have to think of this as something you are doing because you like fantasy football, it’s more a way to reach out and build rapport.

    Good luck!

  62. Observer*

    I’m late to the comments, so I may be repeating something.

    Alison gave you some excellent advice. In general, I think there are two things you should think about. For starters, don’t be so disrespectful of other ways of interacting, and the people who engage in them. Your description is colorful and interesting to read, but loaded with negativity and heavy on stereotypes. I get that chit chat is not your thing, and that’s ok. But, people who engage in these are not a bunch of stereotypes engaged in mindless mouth noises. Largely, they are people of all sorts, including those who fit the stereotype and those who don’t, who just want to have some sort of relationship with the people around them.

    The other thing is that it might be worth your while to learn a thing or two about a few common social subjects that crop up in your workplace. This way you’ll have more confidence when the subject comes up. And it becomes easier to say cheerfully “I don’t know much about {subject x}. But that sounds interesting” when faced with something you know nothing about. And if one or two of the things you know about seem helpful to others, then so much the better. Even if it’s were to get the fastest oil change in the neighborhood or the like. It’s not major, but if it’s something that comes up and you provide somewhat useful information that marks you as someone who is helpful. And, being helpful in a way that doesn’t make people feel stupid or “less” in any way makes you a brilliant conversationalist.

    In general, asking people questions that gets them to keep talking (for a reasonable amount of time!) about whatev er it is they mentioned, is a good technique. You don’t have to talk, people feel heard and there is a positive social encounter.

    1. Observer*

      Another thing to realize. If you get to know a little bit about people, and what makes them tick as individuals, you are in a much better place to operate effectively.

      This morning a co-worker came to me with a work problem that she needed urgent help with. It turns out that personal stuff factors significantly and legitimately into the possible solutions. And, because I have a personal relationship, she didn’t need to fill me in on the personal part of the background that was relevant, and I knew enough to be able to ask some important questions and move to some solutions quickly, saving me a lot of time on a morning with several other pressing issues to deal with. Maybe knowing the background is never relevant to what you do, but it’s surprisingly important more often than most people realize.

      The other thing, and this sounds like it’s relevant to you, is that if you have some understanding of the other person you are in a better position to convince them. It’s not about being manipulative, but about communicating in a way that gets important information through to the other person.

  63. Dee*

    I too am a introvert by nature. I don’t care to be all personal about my business at work and don’t have a desire to know their business either. I can be extrovert too however it’s usually how i read the person or persons energy. I choose not to be in environments with a large group of people at one time, regardless of who they are whether family, friends, enemies, coworker etc. I Am a empath and I tend to read and feel peoples energy without even trying. I do believe you could benefit from figuring out what your true desires are as far as dreams, passions and what truly inspires you. Go back to when you were a child, what did you like, what did you want to become? Children know instinctively how to dream and are natural visionaries before adults and other people show up in their lives as “dream killers”. It’s a shame how that happens. I believe there is something you have always truly wanted to do but for whatever reason you keep putting it off. No more excuses, take action towards making your dream come true and stop taking the safe and comfortable path. Take the “Road less travelled” operate from a space of faith not from a space of fear. Fear will have you questioning yourself and putting off your dreams. You have a built in GPS imprinted in you DNA that is equipped with all the tools and divine inspiration you need to make all your dreams manifest. Learn how to activate it and make those dreams a reality. When you are uncomfortable in any situation it’s your internal GPS telling you that you have veered of course and that you need to get back on track and follow your heart and instincts as they will never lead you wrong. You are never going to fail even when you make a decision that you later decide is no longer for you. It’s all about you finding out who you are and deciding what you really want. You just need to sit still and listen to your inner spirit and stay away from dream killers. You are never going to “fit in” so don’t waste as many years as I did trying. P.S. you can stay at the employment if you choose but I don’t see you being happy there or anywhere until you figure out what is going to make you truly happy. Be blessed.

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