Making Small Talk : Protocol Consultants International

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Making Small Talk

by Judith Bowman on 11/29/14

Small talk, especially with those you don't know or just met is challenging for most and, there’s nothing "small" about it!  Initiating conversation is a skill which needs to be practiced and honed in order to help place others at ease.  Making small talk presents us with an opportunity to practice our all important people skills and stand apart.

Rather than let conversation take its natural course and go with the flow, initiate small talk and topics.  Questions beginning with Who, What, When, Where, Why and How work! Ask "open-ended" questions (those that do not end in a "yes" or "no" answer) and make it all about THEM. Get personal. Remember: People love to talk about… themselves!

In fact, be prepared to walk away from any given conversation and even the event itself, sharing very little about yourself. Actually, this would signal a job "well-done!" Those with whom you have spoken will doubt be of the mindset, i.e., “I just had the best conversation with Judy Jones,” when in fact, there was no conversation, there was a monologue. They were taking about themselves!

Whether during a job interview, a networking event, before/after a business meeting, whenever you have a one-on-one conversational opportunity, embrace it.  Try to glean (more) personal information while sharing personal information (not too much!) about yourself.  Doing so will  help advance trust and grow the relationship.  

  • "What do you do for a living?" may be a common question however, still implies, "How much $$ do you make?")

    Rather, consider saying:   "What business are you in?" or "What is your professional field?" This is less threatening and does not suggest your curiosity regarding their income bracket.

"How is business?" is tricky as they may not want to talk about work. They may have a sick child at home or prefer to chat about their vacation.

Rather, ask, "How are things?" (Asking how things are:
    • leaves the direction/the conversation "open-ended"

    • allows them to take the lead by delving into their personal life or business news.

    • or, they may choose to keep the topic generic and respond, i.e. "Things are fine! Thank you for asking."

      This leaves the field open for you to take the lead and share something about yourself or your business which may inspire them to offer something in kind to help you better connect.)

Initiating small talk: 
  • takes the pressure off us to speak (first).

  • lets us hear the other person speak (first) and obtain important information (we can hear nervousness, arrogance, grammar, pace, etc.  

Remember to become chameleon-like, adapt to them, their words, their pace, to relate and connect.   

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