Unstructured time before an event: the worst time for an introvert


Like many introverts, I really, really despise small talk. To me it is pointless and artificial and a strain. There are many events that I can hear about a few months in advance and think, oh yes that’s something I should attend. It can be a function of my local alumni club, a public seminar about something new I’m doing at work, or maybe a good quality Bible study class. But there’s one thing that keeps me away from those things just about 100% of the time: the unstructured “social hour” before the event. Apparently most other people love that time! It gives them a chance to chitchat with others they know or may not know! They can “work the room” and energize themselves as well as make contacts which may serve them in their career or other areas in the future. For me, depending on the size of the crowd, it can at worst be a time of standing and feeling foolish, taking frequent sips of my drink, as I paste an artificial smile on my face and try to join the most approachable group I see. Unless I have a dire need to do so, I usually chicken out and don’t go. I can’t think of any time when forcing myself to “work the room” has ever gotten me anything, because apparently I’m just not going to dazzle someone in 3 minutes of speed networking.

One thing I do, which keeps me in my comfort zone but doesn’t really give me any new coping skills 🙂 is to go to the event but arrive late. Oh I hate being late for anything, but there are some things I have perfected my arrival time for. If the first thing we have to do in church is to stand and greet our neighbor, then that is the time I am walking down the aisle searching for the easiest-to-get-to spot where there is a seat available. I glance up and smile and say hi briefly but am also able to occupy myself with putting my purse down and getting settled. For lunch-and-learns at a new job I went to a couple of years ago, I definitely made sure I had just gone through the line and picked up my food when the speaker took the podium. The good news there is, I do enjoy reconnecting with people I have gotten to know over months or years, so after a few of those lunch-and-learns I started to see people from other departments that I’d had some contact with – and actually had plenty to say to them or ask them about. The time before the event went too quickly after I really knew a few people!

I keep up with quality contacts and try to maintain those relationships, but they are always people I genuinely know and like to deal with. I develop friendships or friendly-acquaintanceships with people over time, and there is no replacement for the genuine time put in as coworkers, neighbors, or other similar situations. When I’m comfortable with people, the time flies by, and the pre-event would be spent catching up, helping with whatever is needed or just relaxing and seeing who is there. I think one thing I need to try in the pre-events where I know no one is that I can approximate those same activities and be a lot more comfortable. Even if I’m not dazzling.

Photo credit: ShashiBellamkonda



  1. One of the tips I have blogged about and is in my upcoming ebook in detail is the 30 day rule for small talk. As an INTJ I like it because it affords me the structure to easily pull into a conversation something that sounds but isn’t really personal.

    It involves sharing impersonal information about events or interests in your personal life during a span of 30 days on either side of today. In other words, tell people what impersonal events or interests have happened to you within 30 days before “the day” and what impersonal events and interests will occur within 30 days from “that day.”

    Hope to hear more from you and do visit me where I blog business and sales tips for introverts.

    • IntrovertZone on

      Hi Patricia! That ebook sounds great – I am looking forward to reading it. The 30 day span makes good sense. It narrows the time and available topics very well so we don’t have to take so long to think about what to say. I definitely will visit your blog and look forward to learning some tips.

  2. Great article and so very true.
    I hate chitchat myself and I find it utter useless. It’s not that everything have to be serious with me, but at least let’s talk about something interesting and rewarding. 🙂

    I’m very strict with time, which annoys my wife a bit, but I do like your idea of coming late to avoid chitchat.
    Or as I like to call it, shitchat.

    I really hate being told it’s fun and important to work the room. It’s fun and important for that person, but not me.
    That’s like telling someone is stupid because they still rather want to use Mac or Windows instead of Linux. Think it’s called respect, right? 😉

  3. Wow, glad I’m not the only one that feels this way about free time! I feel so useless during that time. Occasionally I’ll find someone to talk to, but usually I just wind up standing around, running back to the water cooler to refill my drink a few times, and probably looking pretty foolish. I do retreats with a local church, and while I love the retreats, I hate all the unstructured chit-chat time that comes in-between the speakers and activities. I usually wind up going to my room and reading a book during the longer breaks, too.

    • Hey Erin, It’s great that you’re doing the retreats, and I hope you’ll develop at least one good friend and find yourself talking effortlessly between those events sometimes. Oh but that book during the longer breaks is so delicious and refreshing, and that’s a great way to take a break.

  4. How to deal with unstructured time is a big challenge for many introverts. But it’s also tied into the J/P aspect of Meyers-Briggs, not just the introversion. J’s are all about structure, so I think this is especially an issue for types like the INTJ. I know some INTP’s who seem to have no problem at all with unstructured time and are quite happy to just chit chat.

  5. Pingback: An introvert in college – how to survive and even thrive! — Introvert Zone

  6. Just so you know, introverts are great writers. They may not be able to say it the “right way” but they definitely “write” it the best way. Never mind what others say about introverts lacking the confidence in almost about everything, they don’t. They actually find it a waste of time socializing with others when they can do something relevant minus the chitchat..how’s that for a comment?
    Fabrice´s last post ..Tirer son lait manuellement

  7. Oh my! I have a job where I am often required to participate in the workshop or even lead the discussions. However, I often choose to arrive “just on time”! I get so anxious in the time before the event. I end up playing with my phone. Re-reading over and over again the event material so that I appear busy. If there is an acquaintance there I will painfully go and try and to talk with. If someone approaches me I am usually okay but I do not approach anyone else and would prefer to be left alone. Then during breaks I go use the bathroom. Sometimes I wished I smoked it seems much easier to escape to go do that! The worst part of it all is that I am a friendly and nice individual it is just that there are situations that I don’t like. I have had several people that have become friends tell me that until they actually started talking to me they thought I was the big B word.

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