Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Fine Art of Small Talk

My typical morning cruise through major media yesterday unearthed a fine article from the Wall Street Journal, The Top Eight Rules of Networking. Both pithy and helpful, this article provides a fine foundation for striking out into productive but often fearful territory. Actually, the fifth tip on Avoiding Being Socially Inept sounds direct and uncomplicated.But for many, honing social skills is a never ending challenging. How actually does one do small talk well?

That was the topic of a recent workshop I did for a group of computer science majors. Doing small talk well is not that difficult if you break it down to its essence: make a statement and ask a question. If the other person responds in the same way—statement then question—the conversational rhythm is set. Statement then question; statement then question.

Last Saturday morning while waiting in a rather long grocery line, I decided to practice what I preach. So I made a comment to the person in front of me about an item on the conveyor belt. I said I noticed her beets and asked whether they were difficult to cook. From that simple opener, I got more than I had bargained for, i.e. her life story in a nutshell. How she and her husband had raised four children on a modest income and how she became a savvy bargain hunter in the process. She continued sharing some of those bargain hunting strategies with me until she walked out the door.

Why is this important? Because small talk—breaking the initial ice—is the foundation of networking. You can’t really do networking successfully without conversing your way past the initial introduction.

So the next time you find yourself stranded at the back of a long line of shopper, think of it as a blessing in disguise. Long lines provide plenty of time to practice that fine art of small talk and learn a few things in the process.

Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 11/16 at 10:36 AM

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