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Small Talk Can Lead to Big ROIs - If You Follow These Tips

Have you recently found yourself at a summer barbecue or work outing and been forced to make small talk? Some of us relish the opportunity to chat about things like the weather and pop culture while others loathe the seemingly useless banter.

However, when done right, small talk can lead to big things. Psychology Today says that mastering small talk is “an important component of your arsenal of social skills.” And if that skill can lead to a new connection, a new client or even a new job, then it’s certainly a skill worth having.

Here are some tips for engaging with others and mastering the art of small talk:

Start small. Small talk isn’t the actual conversation, it is just the opener to figure out what you and the other person can easily talk about. Small talk is the means to the end. So, if someone asks you “what do you do?” – realize that the question is really “what should we talk about?”.

Find common ground. It is important to identify something that is relatable to the other person. Weather is a common opener because it’s something shared by everyone. So, if you find yourself in an elevator with your boss or a stranger, and you aren’t sure what to talk about, weather is always a safe bet.

Put on your detective hat. Once you’ve established a comfort level and found common ground, it’s time to start doing some digging. Begin to ask more specific questions to gain more insight and begin to direct the conversation to fit your agenda. Remember, everyone is interesting, it’s up to you to discover it.

Break the script. Imagine this scenario. As you enter a store, the clerk asks, “how are you?” You reply, “Fine, how are you?” From this exchange, neither person learns anything about the other and the conversation likely ends. Instead, try mixing up the response. “I’m a 7.5 out of 10 today because of xyz …. How are you?” Or try mixing up the question. Instead of asking someone, “what do you do?” – instead ask, “what would you like to do more of?” You’ve now created a bond which opens the door for more personal conversation.

Don’t be nosey. While questions are good to open a conversation, too many questions can feel like prying. Try mixing things up and sometimes make a statement rather than asking a question. That invites the other person to respond but doesn’t compel them to.

Be aware of body posture and language. When you’re talking to another person, leaning forward can be perceived as aggressive. Not looking directly at the person can come off as disinterested. Talking too quickly or asking too many questions can be perceived as an interrogation, not a conversation. Keep a comfortable distance and an even demeanor.

Be prepared to relinquish control. You don’t always have to own the conversation. It’s ok to let go and let the other person drive the discussion. That will help him or her learn more about you and arrive at their own conclusions.

Acknowledge that it’s awkward. As young kids we are taught about “stranger danger.” There may be times however, when talking to someone we don’t know may lead to something big. In those cases, it is ok to acknowledge that approaching the other person is unusual and then explain the reason for the unusual contact. Something like, “You don’t know me, but I saw your badge and realized you work for XX. I have particular experience in this area and would love a chance to interview for a position.” Now you’ve explained why you are breaking the social norm and the conversation can flow more comfortably.

Be a good listener. It’s important that the other person know you are listening to them. Two effective ways to do this are paraphrasing and echoing. To paraphrase, you simply summarize what the other person has said. For example, after a person describes a job to you, you can say “it seems like you’re saying the ideal candidate should have…”. With echoing, you repeat part of what the other person has said. If an interviewer says, “We’ve had a tremendous response to our job posting.” You can echo, “that’s great that you’ve had a tremendous response and…” Studies have shown that when people echo, they are generally more well-liked by the person they are echoing.

Small talk is the gateway to deeper topics, which can result in collaborations and innovation. In our current world where spontaneous water cooler banter has morphed into scheduled Zoom calls, the opportunities to engage in small talk may be harder to find, but they still exist. The next time you jump on a Zoom call, try allocating the first five minutes just to catching up.

Jane Hanson, Bentley Lewis Advisor
Learn more about Bentley Lewis

*Original Article: ForbesWomen by Jane Hanson