HINT: It is not about you.

Recently, I had to again force myself to not stand in a corner clinging to my coffee cup and mingle with people I barely know. It’s called networking and as an introvert, it is among my least favorite sports. Reportedly, it’s about a 50/50 split between people who love networking and people who would rather find a nice cozy spot to just watch everyone interact.

I dread making small talk. I am a native New Englander, we provide one word answers when we feel chatty. I now live below the Mason/Dixon line and the shortest sentence here is “Amen!” with “Bless your heart.” running a close second, but each of these is actually punctuation, not conversation.

Put the coffee cup down.

When someone asks me, “How’s business?” I succinctly reply “Fine.” Because #1- I am sure that they don’t want to hear all the rabid chipmunks screaming in my head about deadlines, billing, and time management and #2 because I am also wondering why they are asking. Oh, right… to start a conversation. Okay. Ugh.

My concise retort comes with a micro-pause until I process the aforementioned, come to my senses, and then sincerely ask, “How are you doing?” Which, in the South, sets off a detailed response that covers everything from a health status update, family additions and subtractions, and then finally a quick report on their business matters. When a third person joins our duet, I will excuse myself after gathering enough information from each of them to make my living as a convivial blackmailer. I could, but I won’t.

Instead, I will file away the vital data and send off an email within a day to tell them it was nice to get to know them and that I hope their carbuncle is better and that their mother-in-law is still enjoying yoga. They will remember me as a good listener and will appreciate my attention to their details.

And, now that we’ve started a relationship, we can each reach out to each other more easily.