The Big Small Talk Mistake

“You get to do the conversation if this one is chatty.”

These are actual words I said to Hubby as we awaited our Lyft Driver at 4:45AM last week.

We were about to fly out of town and were ready to roll. All we needed was to get to the airport. Which is when we used an app to get a ride.

The thing that wasn’t on the app? A way to let the driver know whether or not we were up for small talk at 4:45AM.

Which, by the way, we were not.

The thing that our driver didn’t seem to understand? This very fact.

And boy, was she chatty! On and on she went at a rapid pace. What radio station would we like to hear? No, really, what station because everyone has a favorite! Where were we going to fly to? What were we going to do there? Do we have kids? Do we hate pop music as much as she does?

I tried to give off the “please don’t small talk me” vibe. You know that vibe.

Didn’t matter. Though Hubbie did his best, eventually she turned to me and the topic of my hair. Was it naturally curly? Did I wear it up a lot? Was it easily manageable?

You get the picture.

Some of us are all about the chatter thing because we think it’s the kind, friendly, even professional thing to do. We engage in small talk not just when it’s expected – like at networking events or group meetings – but whenever we’re in the vicinity of another person.

We do this because we believe it’s what people want. Or because we find silence awkward. Or because it’s what we would want.

But here’s the thing.

There are lots of different people in this world. Some LOVE getting to know people through small talk. Some find it awkward. Some downright hate it. Or they usually love to chat but they just got really bad news and need to process it. Or they need to conserve their energy.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t make them bad or rude. It just makes them different from you.

How do you know if someone isn’t into small talk? It’s actually fairly simple.

Pay attention.

If a person doesn’t want to do the small talk thing they will let you know.

They might not say it explicitly (actually, few will), but the message is there. They might try to nicely cut you off. They might look at their phones. Zone out. Look at others in the room.

Now, I’m someone who usually loves small talk (except when I’m on my way to the airport at 4:45AM, apparently). I find it fascinating, a great way to connect with others who are also into it.


I never, ever want to be that person…the one who can’t (or won’t) take the hint. That plows ahead, insistently talking about themselves or asking questions when the other person is internally begging for silence.

I’m guessing you don’t want to be that person either, right?

Which means us small talkers must:

  1. Be aware that others aren’t necessarily all like us.
  2. Look for clues that small talk ain’t someone’s thing and…
  3. Stop if that’s the case.

And what to do if you’re being chatted up when it ain’t your thing? A few steps:

  1. Smile and be gracious at first.
  2. Try non-verbals and hope they get it. If not…
  3. Nicely build a boundary. Let them know that you need to work/rest/close your eyes/save your energy. If they keep going on, keep stopping them, knowing you might need to get more explicit. (I’ve actually said the words “I’m sorry, but I really can’t talk anymore” to a chatty guy sitting next to me on a plane.)

An alternative option? Get preemptive.

If you’re near someone and it seems like chatting might be their thing, you can start with something like “Hi…good to see you/thanks for driving me/nice day…and I just need to let you know now that I need to focus/work/close my eyes/rest and so won’t be able to talk.”

It just might be your best way to fend off the small talker. At least until there’s an app for that. (Looking at you Lyft).

I think you get my point on this one…so I’ll stop chatting now.

Enjoy your day.

PS: Thanks to Jason Lander for the cute baby pic!

10 thoughts on “The Big Small Talk Mistake

  1. KP says:

    Great post Deirdre!

    My husband who travels weekly on planes, and me who travels occasionally as well, has had this very pet peeve with chatty folks who seem to have a need to grill us on all the personal aspects of our lives.

    Where are you going? (To …)
    Oh, what do you do? (I’m a …)
    Just how many … do you ….? (I have…)
    You said, I. Are you single? (I’m marri…)
    And, how long have you been…?

    I try to bury my attention in a book with earbuds stuffed into my ears. Sometimes it works, Many times it doesn’t. My husband is a little more blunt than I am. Nobody ever gets past three questions with him before he says, “Boy you’re really getting out there aren’t you?”

    Shuts them up every time.

    It’s not that we’re all that unsociable, just sometimes we all need to detox from wide open hectic lives we live. It’s kind of nice to have a little down time for yourself once in awhile. Even if that downtime is in the middle of a crowd, catching a Lyft, or packed like sardines on a plane.

    1. This is so great, KP! And it’s really true about needing down time. After doing a day of work and then getting on a plane, I really look forward to my book and a whole lot of quiet. I might just need to try your husband’s strategy next time!

  2. Patty says:

    Thank you Deirdre for the reminder. It can be awkward. Some good tips. It is necessary to take care of ourselves

    1. That’s so true, Patty! Taking care of ourselves doesn’t always make the equation…to everyone’s detriment!

  3. Corrigan Sharon J says:

    I just went through this in Melbourne where a senior lady would not shut up and kept saying if you get business class i’m going to cry, at least 3 times. I did make the mistake of telling her i was a pass rider and hoping for bc on the 16 hr flight to LAX. however i did eventually tell her i had 2 hours sleep and wasn’t up for chatting. Lesson learned. And i did get heavenly biz class- and avoid d her eyes as i went onto the plane

    1. Oh man, Sharon…this is exactly what I’m talking about! I applaud you for setting your boundaries and getting the peace you needed. And good on you for business class!

  4. Melanie says:

    Can Uber please send this blog post to all of their drivers?! 😉

    1. I WISH! I would make me the most popular person in the country! (For a second)

  5. Jackie says:

    Love this post and the accompanying photos. Great topic! Headphones are a good hint too 🙂

    1. Headphones are an awesome strategy! And sunglasses don’t hurt either (even indoors). Thanks so much Jackie!

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