Have I mentioned that I hate small talk? I can handle about 30 seconds of it, and then . . . I’m boooored. The meaningless banter makes me wish I was at home reading a good book. But, give me some depth, catch my interest on a topic, go beyond the ordinary chatter, and I’m hooked. I love stories SO much. I could listen for hours as a story unfolds. Yes, it’s one of the reasons I became a therapist, and it’s one of the gifts of therapy—we very quickly move past the shallow small talk and dig into what’s real and what matters. As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), this stirs my soul. I come alive with such deep and meaningful conversations.
The catch is—it’s harder to do this in social situations. Right? People don’t exactly appreciate a lead in of “So, tell me about your biggest struggle” in everyday conversation. Dear God, my heart might stop if someone said that to me at a cocktail party! Even though I thoroughly enjoy people—as an HSP who leans toward introversion--and while I appreciate being invited, I can cringe at the idea of going to just such a cocktail party or BBQ. There can be so many potential moments of awkwardness or lag in conversation or the dreaded small talk.
Don’t get me wrong—I have enjoyed plenty a party and hope to enjoy many more in my lifetime, but it really helps when the conversation gets good, when I can sink my teeth into it. (And, let’s be honest, an adult beverage or two never hurts to relax the awkwardness and help me settle in.☺) So, as HSPs, how can we create situations and conversations that hook us?
Here are some of the strategies that help me:
Use social media. This has been a huge help in my life! It’s fantastic for those acquaintances or relatives you don’t see or interact with very often. You can use the info you’ve seen in their posts (or even refresh your memory by visiting their page before you go) to steer the conversation to more interesting and meaningful topics. “Congrats on your new house! What are you loving about your new space? What inspired your move? Any recommendations or insights on __________(buying a house, how to make moving a little less stressful, settling in to a new neighborhood, etc.)?”
Go deeper into whatever the trend of the moment is. “So, I’m fascinated by what causes something to become huge in pop culture. Take Game of Thrones. At first, it seems like a show that wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people, but tons of people watch it. What do you think makes it so appealing?” Tie in what you know or have read to the conversation.
Focus on open-ended questions. As HSPs, we tend to be good listeners and good question-askers. Use these skills to your advantage. Join a conversation, and listen to what people are saying. Ask a question about what most interests you. People usually like to talk, and this can generate some great stories!
Discussing a recent movie—“What’s the best movie you’ve seen this year?” Then, you can all explore why people loved certain movies and compare and contrast your thoughts and experiences.
Travel—“Do you have any trips planned this year? What are you excited to do or see there?” Or, something like, “I’m thinking about where to go on my next trip. What are your favorite places that you’ve visited?”
Work or career—“I don’t know much about ____; what’s your day like?” Or “What the best part of your work?” or “What drew you to your career?” or "What's something most people don't know about ______?" If they don’t seem to enjoy their career, you can ask about how they spend their free time/what their passion is--what gets them amped up and makes them come alive.
Sometimes it can be as simple as taking the usual small talk topics and asking some good questions to dig deeper, beyond the normal banter. I even find that other people seem to come alive more too as the conversation gets more real, which energizes me more too.
While small talk is very much part of our culture, and may even be a necessary step for connection, it can be refreshing to focus on easy-to-implement strategies for steering conversations toward what’s real and meaningful. Because, we know, connecting with others deeply enriches life. So, here’s hoping you appreciate how your sensitive nature can steer you toward having some great conversations at your next party or BBQ!
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
If you'd like to learn more tips like these, you might enjoy my Online HSP Coaching Group! Next round starts 4/25. One to two low fee spots available (just mention this article)!