Mastering the Art of Small Talk
October 8, 2019
Take your pick of any luncheon or after hours networking event and chances are you’ll hear a lot of conversations about the weather – too hot, too cold, too sunny, too rainy, too much pollen, the list goes on and on. Why do some business events appear to be filled with armchair meteorologists? Because the weather is a failsafe small-talk subject. We all have an opinion, and every good conversation has to start somewhere.
Small talk is more than chatting about the weather though. To do it well takes practice, and it’s key when building relationships and expanding your network. It’s not hard, but like any skill, takes time to develop. Generally, the best way to start is by making eye contact and sharing a common experience, that perhaps include questions about the weather, or local events, sports, etc. But don’t stop there, because according to Harvard Researchers, you’re just getting started.
In a new study, researchers explored an understudied conversational behavior – question-asking. Across three studies, researchers found a, “robust and consistent relationship between question-asking and liking: people who ask more questions are better liked by their conversation partners. When people are instructed to ask more questions, they are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation, and care.”
In small talk, networking type situations, follow up questions are key. They can make initial get-to-know-you conversations more substantial, while also better positioning you as you as likeable to the person you’re talking to. If you’re at a loss, find something to focus on in your surroundings. There’s bound to be something that will spark small talk and help lead the conversation into unique follow-up questions.
CNBC reports that you may also want to use the A.C.T. trick and build up a conversation that is authentic, builds connection, and provides a taste of who you are. Some of those questions might be:
· What are you looking forward to this week?
· Who is someone you relate to?
· If you could have a conversation with one person – living or dead – who would that be?
You may also want to share a common experience, while keeping the focus on the other person. You also need to be prepared to make the pivot segue from talking about something small to the issue at hand. Most importantly, keep in mind it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Look at the other person when you speak, and smile — it will make your voice sound warmer.
Love it or hate it, small talk can help you find meaningful connections – especially in business – and help you expand your network. It's also through small talk that we find out we watch the same television shows, cheer for the same sports teams, that our kids go to the same school, or that we both went to the same college. Big relationships are built on small talk, and if you’re not sure where to start remember, you can always talk about the weather.