People often dread small talk but it is what binds us together socially. Almost every day, either with people we know or with strangers, you will have to engage in some kind of small talk. It breaks the ice, leads people to gain their first impressions of us and even begins to build a relationship, if that is what you want to do. But what other uses are there for small talk?
Small talk is very useful at work; it helps you build up a rapport and a relationship with your colleagues which helps you to communicate better and so helps you to work more efficiently. Small talk used to be known as ‘passing the time of day’ but somewhere along the line that got a bad press and was translated into ‘wasting time’; but increasingly now with the demise of small talk, people are feeling isolated and lonely.
Bosses who discourage small talk have forgotten how small talk helps people to resolve problems and even prevent conflicts occurring. People who engage in small talk with each other feel more comfortable in sharing ideas and giving or receiving advice in order to resolve a situation which ultimately can surely only be good for business.
But how is small talk actually useful at work?
Hooking in to More Serious Matters:
People often feel awkward and self-conscious about broaching serious topics with another person, especially if that is someone they don’t know well, as may be the case in a work situation. Small talk can help to ease you into the subject.
If you are chatting informally with your colleagues or even your Chief Executive, you may start with basic, general questions and as they open up and the conversation becomes easier, then is the time to ask the serious question. You will find it a lot easier at that time as the topic may arise quite naturally out of the small talk.
Raise your Status:
You need to be careful with this use for small talk, so that you don’t use it to gossip, which can quickly turn negative on you and impact badly on how you are viewed by your co-workers and bosses; however, you can elevate your status by becoming seen as someone who can be trusted to talk to about work issues and problems.
It’s useful too, to arrive early for meetings and use that time for a little small talk. People will more readily recognise you and you may also be overheard by the chief executive or directors saying something useful or interesting on which they wish to chat further with you.
But how do you get small talk right at work?
1. The first rule is to not talk about yourself and your own achievements but to focus on others; this does not mean gossiping about people; as has already been said, that’s a very bad idea. Instead, recognize people’s achievements and don’t be afraid they will be stealing the limelight from you. Largely, bosses value team players who are ready to acknowledge other’s successes and learn from them, so use your small talk to show that you are one of these people.
2. Encourage other people to engage in small talk too. That is how you become known as a confidant and also, it is a way of sharing ideas and best practice which can benefit all of you. Make sure you don’t gossip and spread personal details from small talk to other people, though or you will quickly lose people’s trust.
3. Open up communications with small talk. Conferences and offices are great places to start your networking and this very often starts with small talk, which is where people get a real feel for what you’re like as a person and you can begin to work them out too. Don’t be pushy; let them ask you questions and do plenty of listening to them too.
4. Small talk should be neutral and not threatening. Once you have found some common ground between you, then you can start to express more of an opinion and perhaps be a little more controversial, when you know who you are talking to and how they are likely to react.
5. Use small talk to get to know different people within your organization, from the canteen staff to the chief executive; so for that reason, don’t remain at your desk all lunch-time; go out there and meet people. If your senior management is unreachable, perhaps their PA isn’t; if you make a good impression upon the PA, positive stories of you will filter back to the management team. You’d be surprised what you can find out and how empowering this sort of small talk can be.
Small talk makes your working day pass a lot quicker and more productively so start to look for opportunities to chat with colleagues and management; just make sure you get your work done too!