Mastering small talk will help you find common ground to create a mini-bond with new contacts. Small talk may feel trite and unimportant, but it’s the small talk that leads to the big talk outside the event, according to this book, From Business Cards to Business Relationships
A successful conversation is much like a tennis game-back and forth with each participant equally enthused. Once the dialogue has begun, the conversation should flow from there.
Mastering small talk will help you find common ground to create a mini-bond with new contacts. Small talk may feel trite and unimportant, but it’s the small talk that leads to the big talk outside the event.
The goal of conversation at functions is to establish enough common ground to determine a reason to connect outside the event. Ideally small talk will uncover common interests, business alignments, the six degrees that separate you, potential need for your product or service, and basically whether or not you enjoy each others company. The goal is not to become best friends or a new client on the spot. Although it’s nice when those instant connections happen, usually that’s not the case.
Keeping a conversation rolling is simple when you learn to listen and ask appropriate probing questions that naturally grow from the dialogue. You only need to prepare a couple of questions in advance. If there is a genuine connection then you can proactively engage in conversation.
When a person doesn’t participate actively in a conversation with you, that’s a red flag to say to yourself, “Okay, this is not one of my quality contacts, it’s time to move on and meet someone else.”
Ultimately, the decision each person has to make during this initial contact is whether or not there is enough connection to warrant future interaction. It’s during these small conversations that people form their opinions about whether they like you, trust you, and believe you’re competent.
Actual business talk is quite limited at functions. Learning what people do and perhaps about some of their big developments or projects is about the extent of the business talk expected. Deeper connections are formed through finding common ground that is not work related.
There is a balance between too much and too little business talk. If you don’t talk business at all you may miss an opportunity to communicate who you are, what you do, and what you have to offer and that you are competent in your field. There are some people who you can know for years and never hear them talk about work. You just assume they are retired or not interested in more clients.
However, if you talk about your work too much you run the risk of boring others. Too much “shoptalk” can easily put a damper on an evening. Watch for cues from your conversation partners. How are they responding to the conversation with you? Are they engaged? Are they obviously looking for a new conversation partner? Are they listening to and understanding what you are saying? Are you giving them more information than they expect, want, or need? Are you monopolizing the conversation and not giving others a chance to share ideas or ask questions?
Match the depth of dialogue to the environment
Match the depth of dialogue to the environment. You don’t want to let people overhear confidential or inappropriate information. Plus, talk that is too deep at business functions can lead to heated conversations. New contacts could be put on edge. Over-heated conversations can quickly be subdued by simply making a closing agreeable statement that offers little room for a rhetorical comment. This tactic will diffuse the situation quickly and without incident.
For example, say with a smile, “Well, that’s one issue we’re not going to solve tonight,” or simply close the conversation with “I certainly understand your perspective,” minus the “but” that is sitting on the tip of your tongue.
You won’t win points for always having to be right. You may win the debate while making someone else look bad, but in the end, you’ll make yourself look worse. You will, however, win points for having social graces if you are the bigger person and cool potentially fiery situations.
You have to know when to let go and kill the discussion even if you believe you are correct on the issue. In the grand scheme of things, we must value the opinions of others and accept that it is not important to win every debate. The last thing you want to do is to appear as the know-it-all who must end conversations as the perceived winner.
Debates definitely have a place in conversation and can be a great way to help you get to know people, but pick the time and place and be aware of the company around you. Intense debates can lead to arguments that rarely provide a comfortable environment at business and social functions, especially for those who aren’t interested in the topic at hand.
Obviously, discussions around usually taboo subjects such as religion and politics will be discussed and debated at religious or political events. Even then, you want to be sure that the intensity level is kept to a professional standard. Earning a reputation as a hothead doesn’t make it easy for people to like you, trust you, or believe you’re competent.
Keep a close watch on people’s body language. As the conversation intensifies, you may notice onlookers become tense. That’s a good cue to cool it.
Another confrontational conversation style is playing “top it.” Although at first everyone seems to be enjoying the banter, each turn becomes an exercise to see who can say something bigger, better, and more profound to outshine the other.
This habit can stem from a lack of self-confidence and a need to flex one’s muscles to sound credible, but it backfires. “Top-it” conversationalists come across as arrogant and make the other person feel uncomfortable and unworthy. One-upmanship is a definite no-no.
Let others have the glory every now and again. A person may be sharing what he or she perceives to be an exciting story about a recent trip; let him or her tell it and bask in the moment. There’s nothing worse than having someone pipe in to say, “Yeah, been there 10 times. No biggie. There are better places to go.”
You’ll squash the persons excitement and you’ll purposely make another person feel inferior. No one cares that you’ve been to the destination 10 times if the information is offered with a condescending tone. However, input that is supportive and nonjudgmental is always welcome.
Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered
When it comes to small talk, don’t think you must say something strikingly intelligent each time you speak. Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered.
No doubt small talk can get a little dull after a while. So, take it upon yourself to make it interesting. To prepare for conversations, choose your five favourite safe topics. These will make it easy for you to swing an otherwise stale conversation into one that makes you a genuinely enthusiastic conversationalist.
By determining in advance what interests you, half of the equation for stimulating conversation is complete. Now your job is to guide the conversation from topic to topic until you solve the other important half of the equation: What’s of interest to your new contact?
For example, one of my favourite topics is travel. Whenever conversation is directed to stories of where people have been, where they are going next, or where they would like to travel, I'm automatically enthused and interested.
On the flip side, some topics make my eyes glaze over and my mind starts to wander. These uninteresting topics for me may be someone else’s hot topics. The idea is to find the topics you both enjoy. If you find your conversation partner disengaging, then change the subject. Your arsenal of prepared conversation topics will give you ammunition when a conversation hits a lull and you need to give it some energy.
There are networking trainers who say that you should only worry about finding whatever interests your new contact and create the conversation from there. Sure, that’s fine, but what about you? At what point does it become all about everyone else and not at all about who you are and what you want? It’s important to find the balance. Those who pretend to care only about what interests others miss the chance to enjoy the process and to genuinely engage in a two-way relationship by sharing something about themselves and finding common bonds.
There are key pieces of information that will help you categorize your contacts and figure out where they fit in your life. You want to steer the conversation in a direction that reveals these relevant details to help you decide if this person is a qualified prospect in your target market without specifically asking them.
For example, if you own a wellness store, it would be helpful to direct the conversation to learn if the contact takes special care of his health, spends time exercising outdoors, or frequents the gym.
I must admit, after attending hundreds of events and interacting with thousands of people, there are times when I feel small talk is simply a dreaded requirement. I’m writing this so you know that I completely understand if you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t care about all this superficial conversation.”
When I get in those moods, I remind myself that the person I’m meeting has the potential to be my next big client or a newfound friend. If those thoughts don’t shift my attitude, I’ll set a personal challenge to create a super-duper fantastic conversation with a new contact. For some reason, this additional challenge seems to inspire me to get enthusiasm back into the small talk. If that doesn’t work, I just remind myself that the person I’m talking with deserves my respect.
The real key to great conversations is to relax. Let the conversation flow naturally. That’s easiest to do when you’re fully engaged and genuinely interested in the conversation topic and the person with whom you are talking.
FROM BUSINESS CARDS TO BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
AUTHOR: Allison Graham
PUBLISHER: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
PRICE: Rs 1395
Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons Inc.