One thing you need to know about working life is that you will be meeting a lot of people. And by that we mean clients, suppliers, colleagues from different departments, bosses, other people from the same industry, and even the big guns if you’re at a work event.
When you meet these people, you’re expected to have some kind of a communication. And it all begins with small talk. Urgh, the dreaded thing especially if you’re an introvert. Not only is it awkward but you worry that you may sound boring, silly and the biggest fear? You don’t know what to say so you just stand there thinking, “OMG OMG what do I do?”
Hate it as much as you want but in today’s world, small talk is unavoidable. You may see it as idle chitchat, fake and a waste of time but whenever you meet someone new, there’s that need to exchange pleasantries before you go into the real reason for why you’re meeting.
But hey, guess what – small talk doesn’t have to be a big problem. In fact, it can be an easy thing to do is you brush up on your conversational skills and work on it with these few tips.
#1 Talk less, listen more!
Hurray, right? And guess what, it works! You don’t have to struggle to think of what to say all the time; sometimes small talk means you just listen. There are a few magic words you can use so you don’t have to do all the talking. First, listen to what the other person is saying and learn how to ask the right questions so that they feel obliged to explain further. For example, if the person is talking about a certain project he or she is working on, say “Tell me more.” That encourages the other party to elaborate. Or if he or she is talking about going for a bike ride over the weekend. You can then ask, “Oh I like cycling too. Where would you recommend I go for a ride this weekend?” See how this works?
#2 Check out your environment
Are you at a networking event? At a colleague’s farewell party? Use that to your advantage and make it part of your small talk. Say things like, “Great turnout at the event. Do you come to these things often?” or “What do you think of events like this?”
#3 Ask questions
OK so you don’t want to be in the spotlight, doing all the talking. Make the small talk go the other way then. Start the conversation and keep it going by asking questions. Let the other person take centre stage and you can slowly build up your involvement from there. For-sure questions include “What plans do you have for the upcoming holidays?”, “What are you doing these days?”, “Have you seen that movie? What did you think about it?” Tip: Everyone likes to be asked about their lives and their opinions so think of questions that steer that way.
#4 Keep your phone away
A study called The iPhone Effect showed that having a phone around can ruin a conversation. You know how it is, you are talking to someone and that person whips out the phone to do a quick check on something. It says and does a lot: #1 that person is not listening to you and #2 it can throw you off your game and make you feel uncomfortable, like you’re just hanging around this person feeling so unimportant. Which is precisely why you shouldn’t do the same. Refrain from using your phone to avoid small talk. It’s easy to “look busy” scrolling through your phone just so you don’t need to talk to others. But it is rude and it may backfire on you, especially in the presence of important people (“That new exec doesn’t look like he really wants to be here now, does he?”). If you are really expecting an important email, create a special notification so you know exactly when it has come in. And hey, Facebook and Instagram can wait, ok?
#5 Don’t sweat it
Seriously, small talk isn’t that difficult. You know why, because one thing will lead to another. You don’t have to feel like you need to come up with something brilliant. Or that you need to be witty, smart and extra charming. You know what you need to do? Just be nice. Smile. Be polite. Start the conversation with something polite (“So what brings you here to this event?” or “So how do you know so and so?” or “So how long have you been working at your company?” Once a comfort zone has been set, chances are your conversation will just be natural and unscripted. You don’t have to worry about always trying to come up with something; just go with the flow!
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash