“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess…of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.” – Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m just not good at small talk”? Perhaps you have proclaimed that very thing yourself. You may feel, as does Mr. Darcy – one of literature’s most famously awkward Introverts – that small talk can be so mystifying that it might as well be a foreign language. You may wonder, “What should I talk about? What if they think me a bore? Or a fool? What if I get trapped? How do I escape?” Suddenly, small talk feels like something much more complicated than the simple exchange of a few pleasantries. Yet for other people, striking up a chat with a stranger on the bus feels as natural as the deeper conversations they have with their closest friends and family members.
Whether we like it or not, small talk can play an important role in our lives. In fact, research has shown that engaging in small talk, especially with people we don’t know, can have a positive impact on our day-to-day well-being, by giving us a stronger sense of belonging, empathy, and community. As a conversational opener, small talk can be a gateway to unexpected and meaningful connections. And being inept at small talk can have larger consequences than we might care to admit, like getting passed over for a job opportunity. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy was widely perceived by others to be a self-important snob and suffered the humiliation of a rejected marriage proposal.
The recipient of that proposal, Elizabeth Bennet, chides Mr. Darcy with a comment that implies that all he has to do become “talented” at small talk is to practice doing it. But is it that simple? To what extent does our reluctance to engage in small talk depend on our personality type? To find out, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You find it easy to make small talk.”
Just over half of our readers (57%) agreed overall, but their responses were significantly divided. Unsurprisingly, Extraverts were by far the most likely to say that small talk is easy for them, agreeing at a rate of 82%. But two other personality traits were also important indicators: the Feeling and Assertive traits. Let’s examine the data in more detail below.
Diplomats (60% agreeing)
Although there was relatively little variation in the responses of the four Roles, Diplomat personality types, because of their shared Feeling trait, agreed at the highest rate. Overall, readers with the Feeling trait (60% agreeing) were 8% more likely than Thinking types (52%) to agree with our statement. Feeling types tend to engage with the world through their emotions, and they enjoy making personal connections with others.
The low-stakes intimacy of small talk may be what Diplomats like best about it. And their natural ability to find common ground with others likely makes them feel more comfortable doing it. Asking someone on the train about the book they’re reading or listening to someone at the grocery store share their newfound love of quinoa may feel like more than idle chitchat to a Diplomat personality – these brief encounters may leave them with a sense that there’s a little more harmony in the world.
Explorers and Sentinels (58% and 57%)
Since the Explorer and Sentinel Roles encompass both Feeling and Thinking personality types, their responses fell in between those of Diplomats and Analysts. Other core traits that define these roles – the Observant, Judging, and Prospecting traits – had no influence on the likelihood of readers to agree with our statement.
Nevertheless, Explorers and Sentinels may take different approaches to small talk. Explorer personalities may understand the power of small talk to open up avenues of opportunity with other people. Sentinels, even though they may occasionally find small talk to be a distraction from more practical matters, are naturally group-oriented, seeing the value in ostensibly meaningless exchanges for forging stronger bonds between people.
Least likely to agree with our statement were the Analyst personality types. Thinking types to the core, Analysts crave intellectual stimulation to such an extent that small talk can seem not only pointless, but drearily dull. For them, an in-depth discussion about the finer points of a technical issue, or even a heated political debate, may be preferable to aimless talk about the weather.
It’s interesting to note that there was almost no difference between the responses of the Assertive and Turbulent variants of Analyst types, making them unique among the four Roles. Assertive Commanders (ENTJ-A), for instance, agreed at 80.4%, compared to 80.6% of Turbulent Commanders (ENTJ-T), while Assertive Logicians (INTP-A) agreed at 27.1%, compared to 27.6% of Turbulent Logicians (INTP-T).
This might be explained by the logical approach that Analysts take to all areas of their lives. Their Identity – in other words, their overall sense of self-confidence – has little to do with how they feel about small talk; if these personality types see a logical value in small talk, they’ll naturally find it easy to pursue; if they don’t, they won’t.
People Mastery and Social Engagement (84% and 80% agreeing)
Although the Mind aspect was the greatest factor in this survey, with Extraverted personality types (82%) being more than twice as likely as Introverts (31%) to agree that they find it easy to make small talk, the Identity aspect was also important. Assertive types (65%) were 14% more likely to agree than Turbulent types (51%).
Thus, we see that the Extraverted, Assertive members of the People Mastery Strategy are the most confident when it comes to small talk. Thriving on social contact and any chance to put their communication skills to use, People Masters are perfectly at home striking up conversations with strangers or warming people up at a social event with some friendly banter. These personality types may find even the most trivial exchanges to be preferable to dead silence, a vacuum that they are rarely at a loss for words to fill.
The Turbulent members of the Social Engagement Strategy crave social interaction too, but they may experience more anxiety over small talk than their Assertive counterparts. Feeling generally more concerned with what others think about them, they’ll be more keenly aware of any awkwardness creeping into a social situation, and harder on themselves if their attempts at small talk fail to break the ice.
Of all the personality types, Assertive Protagonists (ENFJ-A) were the most likely to feel comfortable with small talk (89%). These People Masters have an uncanny knack for identifying areas of common interest and using them to bond with others.
A prime example of one such real-life Protagonist is the “Queen of Talk” herself – Oprah Winfrey, who transformed a television medium made for small talk into a platform for life-changing inspiration. If Assertive Protagonists often occupy the center of the room, it may be largely because they have an unfeigned interest in everyone around them, taking genuine pleasure in even the simplest interactions with other people. Another Protagonist personality you may know? Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine and foil to Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.
Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement (34% and 29%)
The markedly lower responses of readers belonging to the Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement Strategies illustrate just how uncomfortable Introverts can be with small talk. Introverted personality types are most at ease in solitude and may view small talk as a particularly odious intrusion on that solace. Self-reliant as they are, Confident Individualists are more likely to view small talk as an unnecessary inconvenience, something they shouldn’t have to engage in just to carry out an everyday transaction or task.
In situations that do call for small talk, a Confident Individualist who has nothing substantive to add to the conversation will prefer to remain quiet than to offer up insipid chatter or flail about for something to say. This describes Mr. Darcy to a T.
Constant Improvers have an even stronger aversion to small talk, thanks to their Turbulent Identity. Small talk puts them outside of their comfort zone, and on top of that, they’re going to feel the most self-conscious about their efforts. Constant Improvers may regard the eagerness and facility with which Extraverted personality types like Protagonists approach small talk with a certain degree of awe, comparing it to their own awkwardness or timidity and worrying that they’ll never be good at small talk.
Least likely of all the personality types to agree with our statement were Turbulent Logisticians (ISTJ-T) (22%). Everything that a Logistician does is for a direct and practical end, and they tend to value actions over words. Although they don’t wish to be seen as rude, small talk may strike them as inessential. Logistician personalities can be competent – even engaging – conversationalists, but typically only when discussing matters of some importance, where they are able to rely on their repository of facts and data.
Consider the example of Ned Stark, a famous fictional Logistician. As any Game of Thrones fan will know, Ned is a no-nonsense ruler with extremely high personal integrity, but his favorite response to seemingly any topic of conversation is three words: “Winter is coming.” He’s not exactly one to chitchat, to say the least.
Whether we view small talk as a way to avoid an awkward silence, as a social nicety, as a waste of time, or as an important, if small, way to build bridges and form new acquaintances in the unlikeliest of places, the fact is that small talk is often an unavoidable part of life. But for all too many of us, small talk is much more of a chore than a delight. Especially for Introverts and for personality types who prefer action, logic, and efficiency, small talk can take us outside our comfort zone and stress us out.
But as one researcher, Dr. Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, points out, “People overestimate the social risks involved in small talk.” In other words, if you make the first move, most people will actually want to talk to you, and even if you feel awkward, what is really at stake anyway? If you find small talk difficult or irritating, try to approach it as an opportunity to learn something new about someone else, about the world around you, or even about yourself.
Does small talk come easily to you, or is it an exercise in futility? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!