Want to build a relationship -- sell yourself for a job -- get ahead -- make a sale? Your 'small talk' is crucial. Everyday conversation can make or break you in personal relationships and in the business world. Sadly, most people don't realize how important small talk is, nor do they try to do better.
That's a shame, because anyone can easily develop great small talk skills. Just how important is small talk? A Stanford University School of Business study showed its impact on business success. It tracked MBA's 10 years after graduation, and found grade point averages had no bearing on their success -- but conversation did. Most successful were those who could make conversation with anyone -- from strangers, to secretaries, to bosses to customers. Small talk impacts your success in 'personal' relationships because it can shape how others see you in terms of intelligence and confidence. People tend to see good conversationalists as more intelligent and confident. Other research -- to find the characteristics of the ideal person -- has shown confidence and intelligence are the most important factors for about 60% of respondents. Despite the importance of small talk, most people don't do it well. Shyness is one reason. Others range from not knowing how to start a conversation to not having anything to say. But all it really takes to be good at small talk is a simple strategy.
THINK AHEAD: You will never have a conversation in a vacuum. It will always have its own context and environment. Think ahead about conversations you are likely to have -- even those casual encounters that may happen because of where you will be on a given day.
HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY: Make sure you have 'something to say.' Do a little research. Read the newspapers. Find interesting things to talk about -- serious or humorous -- on the subjects that come up in everyday conversation - careers, sports, the weather, money, kids, politics, etc.
ASK QUESTIONS: This is critical. A conversation takes two and questions help BOTH you and the other party. Ask someone a question, and you get them 'engaged.'
LISTEN AND UNDERSTAND: This strategy step requires you to, not only listen to how others answer questions, but to 'understand' and adapt.
ADAPT: Let's assume you are a salesperson and, when you enter the new prospect's office, you alertly notice a picture of him standing in front of a sign saying 'Michigan State University.' You say, 'Oh, I see you went to Michigan State.' The prospect replies, 'Yeah, I went there on a football scholarship.' And you reply, 'Oh, I went to Boston University, myself. What was your major?' Wrong follow-up question! The prospect 'volunteered' information important to him (football scholarship). You should have 'adapted' . . . following up with something like, 'Oh, what position did you play?' This could lead to a whole series of questions, increasingly 'engaging' the prospect. When you successfully apply this simple strategy, you create 'rapport' - a feeling of trust and liking. This can cause others to think of you in positive ways:
'Personal' friends or personal friends-to-be: 'This is an interesting, entertaining and witty person -- the kind of person I like to have around me.'
Employers or potential employers: 'This is a person who would fit in here -- a person who can relate well and get along well with others.'
Customers: 'I'm comfortable with this person. This is the kind of person I'd like to do business with.'
Clearly, small talk is crucial to you. You owe it to YOU to do it well.