I’m an introvert who married a social butterfly and thus, frequently find myself in a lot of social situations. I used to enter these situations terrified – worried about what I would say and afraid of coming off ditzy or rude. I’m not going to lie, I definitely had some awkward interactions as I bumbled along trying to figure out how to navigate a busy social life as an introvert. Fortunately, I learned a lot from the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of mistakes I’ve made and I uncovered several simple conversation tips for introverts like me to make social interaction less stressful and more fun.
Repeat the Other Person’s Name
Introverts are often terrible about remembering people’s names. Typically, we are so focused on figuring out what we are going to say next and trying to guess what the person we are speaking to is going to ask us that we completely miss their name when introductions are made. One easy way to improve is to simply repeat the other person’s name when you meet. Most people appreciate when you take the time to get their name right, which makes this not only a good way to remember names, but also to make a good impression.
If, like me, once is not enough, try to immediately make a connection with the name, preferably a positive one (e.g. “My favorite uncle is named Joe!” or “Chablis? Like the wine? That’s one of my favorites.”). When I meet someone with an unusual name, I’ll usually say something like, “I bet people misspell your name a lot” or “Have you ever had any luck finding your name on a personalized keychain?”. Since I have an uncommon name, this is typically an easy way to bond with other uniquely named individuals. If you have a common name, you can say, “At least you never had to go by your last name or initial in school. I was Jen S. so as not to be confused with Jen B. or Jen W.”
Find Something to Compliment
Without staring at them like a stalker, find something you like about the other person right away (e.g. “I love your shoes” or “My husband tells me you’re a godsend at work”). First impressions go a long way and are difficult to change so if you start off on a positive note, the other person will be more likely to overlook an awkward comment later and give you the benefit of the doubt.
Ask What They Do
We introverts don’t like to be the center of attention so a great conversation strategy for us is to keep the focus on the other person. This strategy also makes conversation easy for the person we are speaking with since it gives them a topic to talk about that they know a lot about.
Depending on what the person does for a living, you can take one of two approaches:
- If you don’t know anything about the field, ask for details about what the job entails and how the other person chose it as a career.
- If you are familiar with the job or career, ask how the person enjoys it, how long they’ve been doing it, if it’s what they want to do until retirement or if there’s another field they’d like to explore.
Ask About Their Hobbies
Job talk will typically only take you so far if you aren’t in the same line of work and don’t find the other person’s job exciting or intensely interesting. So, when career talk dries up, move onto hobbies. EVERYONE has something they like to do for fun so ask exactly that – “What do you like to do for fun?” or “What do you like to do in your free time?”.
Ideally, you’ll discover a hobby or interest that you have in common so you can discuss your similar interest (e.g. “I’m an avid reader too! What’s your favorite genre?” or “I run too. What’s your favorite distance to race? Or do you prefer to run on your own?”).
Ask About Their Family
If you’ve made it past introductions and basic small talk and are still engaged in conversation, dig a little deeper into the other person’s personality (and keep the focus on him or her) by asking about family. “Do you have a lot of brothers and sisters?” or “Have you always lived in this area?” are great openers.
Use any information you glean from your initial question to probe deeper, but not in a creepy way. For example, if they’ve always lived in the same city ask about how the area has changed over the years or what the other person likes best about the area. If the other person has a large family, ask about whether siblings are older/younger, what they do for a living, whether or not they get to see each other often, etc.
If they respond with bad news (e.g. “I had one sister, but she died when she was in high school”), acknowledge the comment with sincerity (e.g. “That’s terrible! I’m sorry you had to go through that”) and add a relevant comment about your own family (e.g. “I have two sisters and I can’t imagine losing either of them. That must have been hard for you” or “I’m an only child but I can only imagine how difficult it must be to grow up with a sibling and then lose them”). Then, move on to a new topic. Do not try to navigate the minefield of deep, personal introspection over a tragedy!
Know When to Say Goodbye
Last but not least, know when to end the conversation. Sometimes this is the hardest part, because you are afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings. There’s no reason to force conversation though once interest or topics start to fizzle.
One strategy for ending a conversation is to do so FOR the other person (e.g. “I’m being selfish, taking up all of your time. It was great meeting you. Now I’ll let you go so you can mingle with some of the other guests”). If you have had a good conversation, honesty works well too (“I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again”).
If you just can’t bring yourself to be that candid, here are a few reasons to politely excuse yourself from a conversation”
- “I’m going to go refresh my drink. Can I get you anything?” – If they respond yes, bring back a drink and deliver it, but don’t sit down again – move on to a new conversation.
- “Excuse me. I’m going to find the ladies’ room.”
- “I’d better find my friend/husband/co-worker and check in.”
These conversation starters should help you easily navigate any social situation, no matter how shy you are. If you want even more tips, read How to be a Great Conversationalist.