Don’t underestimate the power of small talk. Not only is it a good way to display a little friendliness, it can also be a powerful skill to boost your career. Some see small talk as wasteful and inconsequential, others find it difficult and boring, while others, who happen to possess excellent soft skills, see the value in small talk and use it appropriately to reap rewards both professionally and personally.
Small talk is a skill that can help build your professional brand. Whether riding in an elevator, waiting in a lunch line or attending a business meeting, striking up a conversation shows kindness, confidence, and approachability and leaves the individual with a positive impression — all things people look for in leaders.
“Conversation is fuel for the soul.”
A good communicator knows when to continue or end the conversation. Generally, most people are receptive to polite chitchat, but it’s important to read the signs like paying attention to his/her body language to determine whether to continue talking. If the individual is showing disinterest by, for example, not showing eye contact or turning away from you, then he/she is giving you a message that they’re not interested in talking. Don’t take it personally.
A good communicator is also a good listener. Conscious listening is essential to mastering the art of small talk. By attentively listening you may find new common ground to steer the conversation to a deeper or meaningful direction. Reinforcing your listening skills by nodding and maintaining eye contact, encourages other people to continue to talk openly with you.
Mastering small talk in business is a key skill and can bring added benefits like expanding your network, developing relationships and – cha-ching – generating business opportunities. By taking idle chitchat and seamlessly finding that connection transitions a conversation into one with purpose and engagement.
Small talk is a skill and takes practice. Follow these tips for success:
Find Common Ground
To strike up a conversation make it relevant to the situation. If you’re attending a small networking event, you might say to the person near you, “I’ve never attended this event before. What made you attend?” This is a good start to a conversation that can open the door for more ongoing dialog.
Have a Pleasant Personality
Everyone enjoys talking to happy people. When initiating a conversation, ensure your tone is pleasant and you’re wearing a smile.
It Takes Two
Effective communication involves talking and listening by both parties. A monologue, in either direction, is not a conversation. Don’t dominate the discussion. Try to achieve a balance between talking and listening. Strive to not interrupt. Hold your thought until he/she is finished speaking.
It’s helpful to choose a relatable topic. Commiserating with another when you’re stuck in a long grocery line, sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, or sitting on a bus in traffic are frustrating moments and can be a great way to make small talk. To build rapport add a little humor such as “Is it Friday yet?” We tend to communicate with others when we share a common link.
Avoid Controversial Topics
Keep touchy topics to yourself. Small talk is not the time to carry on a conversation about religion, politics, money, or your health. Ever. Stick to neutral topics like the weather or a recent event.
Go Deeper into the Topic
Rather than jumping from topic to topic, stick with the subject at hand and discuss it at a deeper level. Topics such as sports, travel, movies, and books tend to be ideal subjects to take the conversation to another level.
Refrain from Jokes
Your humor may not match another’s humor. Avoid telling a joke. It can be an instant conversation killer.
Embrace the conversation even though you may not understand everything he/she is saying. When you don’t understand exactly what the person is sharing, ask him/her what they mean by this or that. Most people will appreciate your interest and happily offer more information. Asking questions is an excellent way to show you’re listening and want to learn more.
Small talk is about building relationships with others, not acting as an authority. Hold your tongue and respect what they have to say, even if you don’t agree. This is a great way to show empathy and gain a better understanding of his/her point of view.
Don’t Get Too Personal
Small talk is meant to be casual and informal. You risk offending the person if you get too personal. Developing relationships takes time, and if you make a connection, chances are you’ll have the opportunity to get to know him/her on a deeper level.
Developing your small talk ability, like any skill, takes time. Whether you’re an introvert or extravert, small talk is an art that takes practice to perfect. Practice with family and co-workers. Ask them for feedback and have patience. Before long, you’ll add small talk to your soft skills repertoire.
(insert Nancy photo)
About the Author: Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs is an empowering professional development consultant, dynamic motivational speaker and author. Highly dedicated and results-oriented, she has the skill and passion for helping individuals become more confident and successful in business and beyond. She and her company Polished help clients focus on key adjustments that result in meaningful impact and effectiveness.