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Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk

Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk

Small talk is a vastly underrated occurrence.

Although dreaded by most people, it does, in fact, play a vital role in establishing relationships – whether that relationship happens to be in business, in a social context, or in a client/provider situation.

Can you imagine a world without small talk?

Think about it.

Small talk is our first attempt at getting to know someone. Not one relationship you have had, apart from that in a close family setting, has started with anything other than small talk. That seemingly insignificant ‘passing the time’ with someone gives us the first inkling of whether we have anything in common with another person.

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Would you have gotten to know your husband or wife, fallen in love and married had you not both exchanged small talk at the beginning? If you can think back to the very first contact you had with someone who became a ‘significant other’ in your life, what do you remember? Did you immediately fall in love with them? Highly unlikely.

Did you bump into each other at the bar and know without any shadow of a doubt that you would be in a relationship with them, within the first minute of seeing them and without having exchanged a word? Of course, love at first sight does happen, but it’s rare, and most times we have to get to know somebody first before we can decide to take it further.

And the way we do that is through small talk. Just like listening skills, being good in small talk is an essential interpersonal skill for everyday life. Take, as another example, that most famous of small talk venues – the hair salon. They are, for the most part, notorious for it, and on the surface it’s as annoying as hell.

But – just imagine what it would be like without it. You would go in, take a seat, explain what you wanted, have your hair done, pay, and leave. Ok, so straight to the point and no messing. But wouldn’t you much rather share a much friendlier hour or so, with someone who greets you by name and with a smile?

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Small talk is vital in keeping our social connections alive.

Isn’t it much nicer to pass that time talking about things which require no effort, with another human being who asks after your family, who remembers that your youngest has just started school? Someone who is interested in whether your holiday to the Caribbean was as good as the pictures you showed her in the brochure the last time you were there?

In these days of screens and virtual reality, human interaction is diminishing, which is why small talk is vital in keeping that connection alive. How dull and unfriendly your first day at a new job would be without small talk. Nobody to give you snippets of office politics. No-one to tell you where the tea and coffee is. Not a soul regaling you with stories of the difficult customers, or the grumpy manager.

It is small talk which makes the days go faster and feel more interesting. It is small talk which makes you feel noticed, and included, and part of the human race. Even a job interview will start with small talk, likewise a visit to the doctor, or the dentist, or the bank manager.

Small talk puts us at ease.

Some people can go days and weeks without talking to a soul. Just think about that for a moment, days and weeks without hearing another person’s voice apart from on the TV. Can you even begin to imagine how important small talk is to that person? Again it is that human contact, the interaction with another person.

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Indulging in an insignificant exchange with a lonely person can make all the difference to how alone they feel. Five minutes swapping pleasantries will probably mean the world to an elderly man who finds himself alone after 50 years of marriage, or to an old lady whose family has emigrated and who she rarely hears from.

Giving them a few moments of your time, while tiresome to you, can be the light at the end of the long tunnel of solitude for someone who has nobody else. Sadly, right now, the world is troubled by prejudice – whether it is because of race, religion, colour or sexuality. Somebody who belongs to one of those ‘minority’ groups can feel unsafe, or unwelcome in their own town, or workplace, and that must be a terrible way to feel.

So can you imagine what a relief it would be to be on the receiving end of a smile, and a few words of insignificant conversation? Those passing comments cost you nothing, but could be enough to lift that person’s spirits, give them a feeling of belonging, and acceptance. How powerful is that, to make another person feel safe?

There’s a magic around the corner…

And small talk can give rise to the most serendipitous of happenings.

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Let’s suppose you have just finished work for the day and you emerge from the building and it is raining. You stand for a moment under cover of the doorway while you look for your umbrella. A man standing next you remarks that it’s nice weather for ducks. You assume he is bemoaning the fact that it’s raining, whereas it’s your favourite kind of weather, and you tell him so. He smiles, and admits that it’s his favourite too, and you notice his smile.

Now maybe this conversation ends there. At the very least, your day has been brightened by a stranger’s beautiful smile.

Or, possibly, you stay a while, indulge in more trivia which ends in exchanging phone numbers, or going for a coffee around the corner…maybe you end up together, with this handsome man with the beautiful smile and a love of rain.

And that, right there, is the magic of small talk.

Featured photo credit: Dan Cooper via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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