Small talk is important, but it’s not what you think.
Small talk is pointless, right? A quick search on Google of “why is small talk important?” will reveal nothing more than telling you that small talk IS important for your career, important for networking with your up-line managers, important for meeting new clients, etc.
You will find no mention or articles of any compelling reason to improve your small talk skills or to buy into the fact that it truly is important. You will only find a universal agreement that it IS important. If Google insists that it’s important, then it must be, right? But WHY?
How would you feel if I told you that it was part of our animal instincts? That it was a vital component to assessing the safety of your situation? That small talk is the ONLY thing that can help you to build true trust with the individuals that you want to impress or potentially collaborate with? You might find that to be a compelling reason to sharpen your skills, so let’s explore it.
At our very core, humans are a herd species. We know this. There is an unending amount of research to show how humans change their behavior in social situations in order to accommodate the group, and how incredibly difficult it is to do things that may be perceived as incongruent with others. Most articles that detail our human instincts to appease “the herd” are negative, and encourage you to resist this urge. In this case, I want you to do the opposite; use this information to your advantage to help you build the connections you so desperately want to have.
By its very nature, a heard species is one in which the individual members are in incredibly high levels of danger without the collective safety of the group. Safety is always in the back of our minds with every decision we make. Using a seatbelt, hesitating to jump out of a perfectly good airplane because someone said it was “fun,” locking our doors at night, and choosing whom to trust.
If we make poor decisions with who we decide to trust in our lives, the consequences can be disastrous. We can give someone our credit card information who then commits identity fraud. We can couple ourselves with someone who becomes unfaithful and leaves us with a broken heart. We can choose a partner in a business, and end up filing for bankruptcy because of decisions the other person made that we either condoned (because we trusted their judgment), or were being made without our knowledge.
When someone is asking us basic questions about ourselves (Are you married? Do you have any kids? What are your hobbies? What do you like to do on the weekends? Did you catch the big game last week?), what they are doing is trying to get a picture in their mind of who you really are. They are trying to better understand what a typical day looks like for you, who you spend your time with, what you spend your time doing, what your values are, etc. They probably don’t even realize that that’s exactly what they’re doing, but they are trying to gather enough information about you to decide if they like you and if they can trust you.
If you’ve spent any time in the self development space lately, I’m sure you’ve heard over and over that people do business with those who they “know, like, and trust.” If you walk up to me and ask to borrow $1 million because you have ‘a really great idea,’ one of the first thoughts that would pop into my head (if I had that kind of money to lend) would be “I don’t know you. Why would I give you that kind of money?”
You want to be a partner in the firm? Not if they can’t trust that you’ve got the kind of integrity and work ethic that’s going to keep that business at the top. You want to be put in charge of that really big department? Not if the hiring manager doesn’t have some basic idea about how competent you are, if your personality is going to mesh with the people in that department, if your leadership style (i.e. the way you communicate with others) doesn’t fit with the company culture. You want to be in charge of that really important presentation? Not if the person doesn’t trust that you have the time to put into it and the speaking skills to present it in front of that really important group of investors.
Do you want to be my health coach? Great, tell me how you like to spend your time, because if you’re thinking about jogging me up the side of the mountain to do burpees on top of a camel’s back, I’m not coming. Do you want to sell me this amazing product? Cool. I need to know more about why you’re an authority on that topic (your journey up until now), how much education you’ve invested in learning about the product, and what sort of availability (time) you might have to give me if I need assistance. Do you want to sell me your mentor services? I might be open to it, but I need to know if our personalities are going to match, because if you annoy the heck out of me, I’m not going to stick with it.
People trust, collaborate with, and buy from people they know, like, and trust. The only way they can get to know you is through the small talk that gives them a peek into your daily life, your true values, and your personality.
Feel like your small talk skills could use a little help? I have a FREE guide that comes with a (free) video series that will help you learn:
- How to greet people in a way that automatically endears them to you
- How to ask and answer questions in a way that keeps the conversation ball rolling
- How to wrap up the conversation gracefully and move on when you’re ready to find the next person to approach.
Click the link to sign up (7 Tips to Nail Your Next Social Event):
Julie Crenshaw is a Conversation Coach and author. Her book, “Navigating & Avoiding Awkward Conversations: How to speak to anyone about anything,” has helped readers all over the world improve their communication skills. Follow her on Instagram to learn more about the art of conversation.