Why Small Talk Bores HSPs (and How to Turn It Into Meaningful Conversation)

Two women talking at work

Just because highly sensitive people can do small talk doesn’t mean they enjoy it.

As a highly sensitive (and introverted) person, one of the activities I dread most is small talk. Seriously, I’d rank it up there with finding a cockroach in my house or pulling weeds in 100-degree heat. No thanks, I’ll pass!   

Now, I want you to know that I am by no means unsociable. I’m often described as friendly and warm. And, to date, one of my favorite jobs was working as a restaurant server because of all the interesting people I got to meet. But, just because I can do small talk doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

As a devout “small-talk-disliker,” let me give you an example of what scares the pants off me. Maybe you can relate.

I was at my friend Jenna’s house for lunch on a sunny Saturday afternoon. She’d also invited over a work friend that I’d never met before. The friend seemed nice enough, but shortly after introducing us, Jenna excused herself to start preparing lunch. No, no, no. Don’t go! Suddenly, it’s just the work friend and me. We smiled at each other and my palms began to sweat.

What do we talk about? I just met this woman. I secretly hoped that Jenna wouldn’t take too long to make our lunch. I wondered if maybe we should have just offered to help her in the kitchen so we didn’t have to be alone. My mind raced, but instead, I took a deep breath and decided to break the silence. “So… how long have you known Jenna?” I asked with a smile as I hoped for the best…

Why Highly Sensitive People Dislike Small Talk

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) have an affinity for the rich, meaningful experiences in life. We naturally take in so much information about the world around us and then process it deeply. As a result, we’re often quite introspective with vibrant internal lives.  

Not to mention, the majority of HSPs are introverts, which heightens our desire for introspection and quiet contemplation. Because of this, we enjoy having conversations that go deep, allow us to share our internal musings, and make us feel connected to others in a meaningful way.

We love to hear you speak passionately about the work that lights your heart on fire. We empathize deeply when you share vulnerably about a recent breakup. We’re enraptured when you tell us about your life-changing spiritual experience in Bali. Give us the realness, the depth, the raw emotion. We’re all in.

That’s why, in contrast, small talk can feel so flat and dull to sensitive people. When we’re partaking in it, we’re only scratching the surface. We’re talking about the weather, our jobs, or if we’ve tried that new restaurant in town. It just doesn’t quite fulfill that desire we have to really get to know the internal workings of another human being.

In addition to that, social situations can sometimes feel overstimulating for HSPs, especially if we’re talking with someone we don’t know well. So, when we’re expected to partake in small talk, we might feel increasingly uncomfortable and anxious, causing our minds to go blank as we search for something to talk about.

Like I shared in the beginning, I got nervous when I was left alone with a person I’d only just met. In that moment, I became acutely aware of how shy I felt. I was worried this woman might think I was boring, awkward, or didn’t have anything special to offer. In other words, I experienced a bout of social anxiety, which is not uncommon for HSPs.

However, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, partaking in small talk every now and then is important for us to do. Why? Because it’s the gateway to that meaningful conversation we so deeply crave.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I hosted a New Year’s Eve party at our house. My husband is an extrovert and a total social butterfly. He was excited to host the party. And while I was excited, too, I wanted to create a more unique and meaningful way for our guests to ring in the new year.

So I had the idea to place conversation cards under each of our dinner plates. I wrote questions like, “What was the best thing that happened to you this year?” and “What was your favorite trip you took, and why?”

As a result, we ended up having new, interesting conversations that lasted the entire night. We got to learn things about our friends that we’d never known and became closer as a result. Everyone agreed that this activity needed to become a tradition every New Year’s Eve.

If you’re a highly sensitive person who dislikes small talk, this is just one way you can tease out more meaningful conversations with people. But if you’re not in a situation where conversation cards are handy, here are a few other tips that can help.

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4 Ways to Turn Small Talk Into Meaningful Conversation

1. Ask deeper, more involved questions. 

We’re often disappointed by small talk because we simply aren’t asking more involved questions. Many are very surface-level with little wiggle room to go deeper. So try asking questions that can lead somewhere more interesting and more in-depth. For instance, you can ask someone, “Where do you live?” and get a standard, predictable answer. A more interesting version of that question to ask would be, “What made you decide to move here?” From there, you’ll likely learn something new about them, leading into more meaningful conversation.

2. Get genuinely curious about the other person. 

As Dale Carnegie famously said in his book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, “You can make more friends in two months by being genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get them interested in you.” Oftentimes in conversation, we’re so focused on what we should say next or maybe about how uncomfortable we feel. Instead, try shifting your focus into being genuinely curious about the person in front of you. We all have hopes, dreams, and fears. You may think you have nothing in common with them, but you’ll be surprised what you can find when you get genuinely curious.

3. Share more revealing responses. 

Conversations go both ways, right? So, if you’re hoping to have exchanges that feel more fulfilling, make sure you’re sharing interesting and revealing responses, too! For example, let’s say someone at work asks, “How was your weekend?” Instead of responding, “It was pretty good! How was yours?” you could be a little bit more specific. “My weekend was fun! My husband and I went on a new hike that led to this beautiful waterfall.” Then they’ll probably ask where the hike was, and so on. When we share more insightful responses, we offer an opportunity for the other person to engage more deeply.

4. Have anxiety-reducing practices ready. 

As I stated above, small talk can sometimes feel uncomfortable for HSPs because we feel anxious and overstimulated in our environment. One thing that helps me in social situations is to ground myself in the present moment. If you notice yourself feeling anxious about holding a conversation, try this. Notice what your feet feel like on the ground and feel the chair supporting your back — really become aware of the way you are supported in this moment. 

We often feel anxious because our body feels unsafe and on edge. Because of this, I also love taking deep breaths into my stomach (instead of my chest), which signals to my body that I’m relaxed and okay. According to Harvard Medical School, “Belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the head down the neck, through the chest, and to the colon. This activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and lowering stress levels.”

A Plus? Small Talk Can Lead to New Friendships

While sensitive people may never love small talk (does anyone, really?), we can learn ways to make it a little bit more enjoyable. Plus, our end goal is to have conversations with people that actually fill our HSP cups, right?

It helps to remember that while small talk may not be our favorite activity in the world, it’s usually the first step to establishing a more meaningful connection with someone. That’s what happened after I took that deep breath and started a conversation with Jenna’s work friend. As we began to break down the small talk barriers, I learned we had a lot in common! In fact, after I shared with her that I work with HSPs, she realized that she was most likely an HSP, too, and couldn’t wait to learn more.

So you never know what treasures may await on the other side of that dreaded small talk. Sometimes it’s nothing, but other times, it’s a new HSP friend!

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