Small talk, mingling and social anxiety

I hate small talk.  Really.  It can be so uncomfortable.  My Myers-Briggs profile is ENTJ with the E standing for Extroversion.  I guess I’m supposed to like social interactions.  Here’s what my profile says about me:

ENTJs are among the rarest of types, accounting for about 2–5% of those who are formally tested.  They tend to be self-driven, motivating, energetic, assertive, confident, and competitive. They generally take a big-picture view and build a long-term strategy. They typically know what they want and may mobilize others to help them attain their goals. ENTJs are often sought out as leaders due to an innate ability to direct groups of people. Unusually influential and organized, they may sometimes judge others by their own tough standards, failing to take personal needs into account.

First of all, it’s amazing how accurate these things can be.  At the same time, I’ve always been one to dismiss these types of tests.  Oh, not because they aren’t on target, but because they make it very easy for us to put people into boxes.  “Oh, he’s an INFP…Mr. Sensitive”  “She’s a Green…no wonder she has no social skills”.  These tests can be great if applied the right way but most times they are not.

I digress.

The E in my profile implies that “Extraversion [is] preferred to introversion: ENTJs often feel motivated by their interaction with people. They tend to enjoy a wide circle of acquaintances, and they gain energy in social situations.”

Gain energy?  Yeah, I feel like I’m walking around with a pasted smile on my face hoping someone will strike up a conversation with me.  This is not to say I can’t small talk and mingle.  I just don’t really like it.  Example:  When I was growing up on 16th street, my two best friends were Julie and Kathie, also on 16th street.  We all lived in the same split-level house plan.  We all had parents that were teachers.  We all had Huffy bikes.  And now we all have boy-girl twins (weird, I know).  Anyway, we were close.  But if Julie and Kathie were already outside playing together, it took all the willpower in the world for me to approach them and join the group.  Example #2:  Weddings.  Who are you all seating me with because it’s usually never people I know!  “So, how do you know Bob & Sue?”  “What a great day for a wedding, huh?” “Oh, look, now they are going to dance.”  Painful.

Many of you are so good at this mingling, small talk thing!  My friend, Megan B., has a gift.  She can have an amazing conversation with a 9-year-old (I mean a seriously good conversation) and turn right around and dive into a deep conversation with adults about…well, anything.  And she’s really listening.  She’s not just good at hearing herself talk.  I haven’t told you this, Megan, but I so admire that in you.

My social graces have been put to the test this week.  We have had a variety of school orientations, tours, picnics and cocktail events (the cocktail event may get it’s own post; amazing).  I do believe I can hold my own with the best of them.  But I scan the area for familiar faces and tend to find the same group I am already comfortable with.  For two of these events the parent association put together name tags for everyone that included sticky dots representing the class your child was in.  This allowed you to find the parents of your children’s classmates.  So, we walked around at each event with dark blue dots representing Elizabeth and Julian and an orange dot representing Sarah.  A couple of us laughed because really what the dots were doing was helping us determine who was worthy of meeting.  “Hello.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Your dot is light blue.  You would be a waste of my time tonight.”

Thankfully, we have started to click with a few other couples (one of which is only here for a semester so a few of us are already  commiserating their absence come January.  Julian will also miss their son, Harry, when they move).  We have signed up for several events together and being that people are either on sabbatical with flexible hours or don’t have to work until the East Coast wakes up, there is some built in adult time after the kids go to school.  Lots of cafe/coffee dates are already filling the calendar!  That I can handle.  Chatting with people I’m starting to feel comfortable with.  But I’ve always been that way.  I would rather spend an evening with a core group of good friends than a big party.

My social skills aside, I now get to observe my three children trying to manage through these same situations.  I don’t want to dismiss Elizabeth from this conversation because I’m sure she has her own butterflies.  But she received someone’s social gene and, at least outwardly, has the ability to bond with others in just about every situation.  Her list of friends is already very long and she had three of her friends (whom she had known for one day) all run into the classroom the first day squealing, “Save four seats!  Save four seats!”  She is perfectly comfortable to be on a soccer field with French-only coaches, find someone that is bilingual and say, “What is he saying?”  I think Julian received my social gene.  When he’s comfortable with someone, all is good.  But until that happens, I can feel what he is feeling.  Oh, I’m not worried about him at all.  He is playing soccer with a big group and will find his friends when he arrives at school.  But until that comfortableness sets in, he needs to be pushed to approach someone…a coach, a teacher, a friend.  Sarah is a teenager.  Hard to read.  The volume of information shared with us can fluctuate daily.  But she jumped right into her class group at the picnic last week and, for the adaptation classes in college (middle school), you go to all your classes together except English.  So they travel as a pack and already have a nice little rapport going.  She meets Bianca before school and then they hook up with Julie and Claudia.  And she has shared several stories of them all laughing in class together so that’s good.  I wouldn’t say she loves social situations, but she knows they are a reality and can handle them just fine.

I’m very proud of all three.  We really did a number on them, pulling them out of their groups of friends for an entire year.  But they have been fully onboard and, fingers crossed, will come out of this experience with friends far and wide.

So, when’s my next forced social experience?  Well, it’s bright and early tomorrow morning when a group of women from the school, none of whom I know, will run as a team in the 6K La Parisienne, a run celebrating “the women of Paris” with 30, 000 others.  Let the small talk begin…

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Small talk, mingling and social anxiety

  1. Linda


    Your post reminded me of being in Ireland with predominantly English and Irish people in my classes. I also dislike small talk but I do it by necessity. Good luck in your Parisian run tomorrow. I bet your competitve nature will shine.

  2. Corinne

    Do you have to talk and run? Doesn’t running preclude the need to talk?

    Love ya, Kelley… great post.

  3. Karen Hoffmeier

    I’ve never liked “big” groups. I think most people look for someone they know when going to a social situation. I’ve always hated seeing kids left standing alone. I’m sure others are in the same situation that you are in. My favorite principal (Connie) always had a unique way of getting everyone to mix even at faculty meetings. Was good for me as I usually would have worked in the same group. You will do just fine. I remember those days on 16th street.

  4. Karen Hoffmeier

    Kelley, as much as I think I knew you, you surprise me a bit with your social situation, because I’ve never seen you stand back from a group and I would have said Liz is more like you than Julian is
    in this kind of setting. Regardless, You are a great writer and I hope you will take these writings and publish them when you get back to Wisconsin next year. It was great to face time with you this morning and get a chance to visit with the kids, too. I’ll bet you will handle your racing social obligations just fine.
    Have a great day tomorrow.


  5. Megan

    Wow, you truly are a gifted writer- loved reading the inside peek. You and Tom are giving S/J/E an amazing gift of experience- sounds like they all have benefitted from this gift in a matter of just a few weeks. It will be incredible to see the impact after 1 year.

    I must say, I was totally surprised and humbled by your generous comments. I, too would never seek out a crowd over a small group of familiar friends as a first choice. Perhaps being lucky enough to be around great people like you for conversation is starting to rub off! Whether it’s your preference or not, in groups small or large-you shine, sister!

    PS- missed you at school
    pick-up. It’s so weird to not see you and Tom in the usual spot. You guys leave a big hole here in many places and ways. Meanwhile, your faithful fans await more of your engaging posts !

  6. Karen Hoffmeier

    Just as a sideline comment, I think that every elementary conference we ever attended the teachers would always compliment your work and then add: “Kelley is in the most social class I’ve ever taught!”


  7. Natalie Conte

    Next to me you are a social butterfly which I wish I were! ISFJ. Enough said.

  8. Corinne

    BTW… INFP 🙂

  9. Kathie

    Kelley, what a great blog! Who knew? You hide your social….insecurities very well. Maybe that’s because I have known you for 41 years. (how can that be, aren’t we 29?) It’s so exciting to hear about your experiences. Can’t wait to hear more about school for the kids. Interesting stuff. 🙂 xxoo

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