You may be one of the many people who just like to get on with things, and regard small talk as a waste of time. You put your head down and produce what’s required. That’s what you’re expected to do, right?
Well, yes. But you might also find you don’t progress in the way you would like. You might find you are overlooked when it comes to promotion and advancement. It could be that you are just not noticed, that you don’t make an impact, that your name is not known.
You might think how on earth is talking about television, or sport, or the weather, or the terrible bus service on your route going to help your career? But this kind of light conversation brings you into contact with people. It makes you visible, and creates a positive impression.
Engagement is the key
To make small talk work for you, you don’t have to be clever, witty or insightful. You just have to be friendly. What you actually say is less important than the way you engage with other people.
Respond positively to what the other person says. Replies such as ‘No, I didn’t see it. I haven’t got time to watch television/see films’ or ‘I can’t stand football/tennis/sport of any kind’ act as a rebuff. Not only do they put an end to the conversation, they also mark you down as standoffish.
You may not be familiar with the celebrity, personality, Nobel prizewinner your companion mentions, but ‘Never heard of them’ just doesn’t cut it in the realm of conversational exchanges.
Smile, nod and look interested in whatever is being talked about. Phrases such as ‘Yes, I know what you mean’ or ‘I’ll have to look out for that’ are fine. The thing is, no one really cares what you think. They will forget what you said as soon as you leave – but they will remember you as a person who is easy to get on with.
Share a little
Share a little something about yourself. Not too deep, not too personal. A comment about your coffee preference or that you’re on your way to the gym/pub/shops gives you identity. Asking for a recommendation works well also. Questions such as ‘Has anyone tried that new sushi place?’ or ‘What are Zara’s coats/skirts/suits like this season?’ make a good contribution to a conversation on these topics.
A well-known wit found that he was lost for words on the occasions when a proud parent presented him with a new-born baby to admire. He developed the strategy of gazing at the infant and declaring ‘Now there’s a baby!’ It worked every time – and a similar strategy can work for you. His response
states the obvious
is pleasing to the recipient
does not imply approval or disapproval
is correct in every detail
does not invite contradiction
is not controversial
fulfils the social contract
So make time for some small talk, whether you are in the elevator with one other person, or with a group at the vending machine, or waiting for the photocopier, or signing someone’s leaving card. It will build your network, create links and relationships, and increase your presence. And it might even bring a bit of fun and light relief to your working day.
My new book, Small Talk Skills, offers an easy, practical guide to how to make social conversation. You will discover how to: