November 9, 2022

I’m afraid of small talk when meetings start


Alexandra Bonetti

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At Common Code we offer in-Slack On-Demand Coaching. Like texting your therapist, but for your career. These questions come from our On-Demand Coaching clients.

Q: I’m afraid of the small talk before meetings start.

From Miguel - Team Lead of a remote team based out of Seattle


Hi Miguel! First things first, I want to applaud your self awareness. Knowing critical traits about yourself is truly not as easy as it sounds, takes a ton of work (intentional and not) and is the base on which everything positive can build from, so you’ve accomplished the hardest and most important part. 

Being an introvert is simply a preference, you prefer low stimulation environments and you’re at your most creative and productive self when you achieve those environments. Knowing this about yourself is a gift that will allow you to curate your life in a way that sets you up for success.

Here’s a concept I want you to think about: 

Imagine an empty bucket. When you’re able to work in low stimulation environments, you’re crediting social currency in that bucket. Every time you’re able to work in your comfortable environment and you feel creative, at ease, connected to your own needs, that bucket fills up. You get energy from these instances.

Why is it important to have a full bucket with social currency? If your day-to-day is set up to be executed as a pure extrovert, that will lead you to feel drained, anxious, and will eventually burn you out. The harder (but also more fulfilling) work is figuring out how you will curate your day-to-day so that you have plenty of moments that fill your bucket with social currency. 

Because, inevitably, the time will come when you will have to act in a high-stimulation environment –  you have to present to your own manager, you have to lead and inspire your team, and yes, you have to kick off team meetings with connecting small-talk. 

It’s not a matter of if these events will happen, because we know they will, it’s arming yourself with the tools you need to approach these situations. So, 1) let’s make sure your social bucket is full of currency so you can draw on that currency when it’s worth it, and 2) let’s equip your toolbox with tools that strengthen your communication skills and keep you feeling energized.

Here are some tips:

  1. Communicate your introversion preference to your team. I will never tire of saying this: your team cannot read your mind. It’s easy to mistake an introvert for someone who doesn’t want to connect, or isn’t “nice” to people. As soon as you’re transparent, even vulnerable, about your preference, people don’t need to make stories up in their heads. Here’s what that might look like:

"It’s important you know that I’m an introvert. That means it might be draining or difficult for me to participate in small talk, lead big meetings in a live setting, or have back-to-back calls. I thrive when I can communicate in writing, when I have time to digest concepts on my own, and when I can spend chunks of time in deep work. This doesn’t mean that I won’t participate and it definitely doesn’t mean I don’t want to connect with you, I’m eager to get to know you and support you in every way I can. I share this with you to create transparency and clarity so you’re never wondering why I may seem quieter than others." 

  1. Be curious about your preference. 

  • Color code your calendar in terms of currency credits or debits and log that over time for your own calibration. When do you feel your best? Is it when you have 4 hours a week of extrovert work? Are you able to do 10 hours a week of extrovert work? Figure out the ideal ratio of introverted time to extroverted time and see if you can stick to that. 
  • Are there things outside of work that add and detract from your bucket? How do you feel when you have a social event where you don’t know many people? How do you feel when you spend quality time with a few people you deeply care about? How might you holistically think about your week so that your 9-to-5 self and your outside-of-work self are in positive harmony?
  1. Start curating your week in a way where the balance of your bucket ends positively. There is no exact playbook here, only you’ll be able to determine this. It will take work and it won’t always be perfect, but you can strive toward your ideal balance. 
  2. Know when to not draw on your social currency. Sometimes protecting the currency you have in that bucket is just as impactful as using it up – because if you can’t lead from a place of positive balance, energy, and inspiration, then your team might suffer more than that small instance of extroverted-ness might add to the team.

Now, as a leader, you need a box full of tools you can use when the circumstance calls on you to use your extrovert skillset. Here are some actionable things we recommend that you can use today:

Here are some ways you can prepare:

  1. Use your team’s Temp Checks to generate conversation. If someone mentioned they’re going to a concert, bring it up when they arrive at the meeting. 

  1. Ask for a Temp Check at the beginning of a meeting: “Can everyone share in the comment box if you’re feeling green, yellow, or red for this meeting and why? Would love to get a temp check of where everyone is going into this hour today.” That will give you more information to work from and talk about. Read from the chatbox, for example: “Sarah is feeling excited to get some clarity, thanks for sharing that Sarah, I do think we’ll get more clarity on today’s call but if you don’t feel clear after today’s meeting please let me know…”
  2. Skip the small talk entirely. While small talk can be a great thing to break the ice and team build, don’t be afraid to take control of the meeting and jump into the agenda shortly after the scheduled start time / once most participants have arrived. You can also join your meeting right on time and go straight into the agenda “Hi everybody, thank you for joining, we have lots to discuss today so am going to jump right in.”
  3. Create a question bank over time, ask those questions, and sit back and listen. Start here:
  • What you feel comfortable talking about: if you’re into movies, ask people about what movies they’ve seen lately.
  • What you know nothing about but entices your curiosity: maybe you don’t cook but have been thinking about turning on your oven this week. Ask your team for their favorite recipes.
  • If you want some more ideas, here's a list of icebreaker questions

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