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Conversational Compliance: A Big Case for Small Talk

Small talk is vital to the beginning of a solid relationship. With that, you may let out a heavy sigh and quietly mutter words to the effect of, “UGH, small talk!”

Let’s face it, “small talk” has a bad reputation. Many see it as idle chitchat that has no productive value in the professional world.

This is understandable. After all, few, if any, can see the connection between “That was some game,” and “We’ve got a deal.”

Know this, however. Networking formed and holds together your entire world and “small talk” has played a big part in that. While you might bemoan the thought, it’s true.

Think about it. Every great relationship – whether personal or professional – had a beginning. It didn’t start with you getting down to brass tacks and pitching an idea or a product or yourself. Rather, you waded in via a seemingly mundane agenda that might have included polite pleasantries, the weather, or the hometown team. This is small talk.

It is through “small talk” that people get a sense of who you are. These simple exchanges allow people to begin to know, like and trust you. And from that, the gears of a meaningful relationship begin to engage – moving you forward.

This all sounds very logical … even familiar. Yet, is there a skeptical voice in your head saying, “I would like some proof”? Well, here you go.

In 2001, three social psychologists published a report detailing a study in which 100 women (selected at random) were stopped on the street and asked it they’d like to buy some candles. The subjects were randomly divided – one was a control group and the other the test group.

With the control group, the researcher simply stopped each woman and asked her if she’d like to buy some candles.

With the test group, however, the researcher began by greeting each subject with, “Good afternoon! How are you feeling today?” Depending on the nature of the response (“I’m well, thanks.” or “Not great. It’s been a hectic day.”), the researcher gave an empathetic response (e.g., “That’s great!” or “I’m sorry to hear that.”). Following this brief exchange, the researcher asked if the subject would like to buy some candles.

In the test group — where subjects were asked how they felt (a mere tidbit of small talk), 11 of the 50 test subjects opted to purchase candles. In the control group, only 3 did.

What’s happening? Well, social scientists refer to this as “heuristic processing.” In plain English, over eons of development our brains have created shortcuts to evaluate situations and problem-solve to ease the mental decision making process. In a small talk scenario, our brains have programmed a shortcut that tells us, if someone engages us in polite pleasantries, we should trust them.”

You still might not like engaging in small talk. Nevertheless, through this study you can now put faith in the notion that small talk is valuable to relationship building.

Assuming you believe in the value of small talk, you will likely then ask, “How can I be better at it?”

Great question! You’ll be happy to know that you can certainly improve your proficiency at it through practice. Here are three ideas:

  1. Think About Small Talk … On the way to the next event or when you have some idle time, work through in your mind how you envision your “small talk” going.
  2. Listen to Small Talk … “Small talk” is all around you, everyday. Listen to it, especially those who are good at it. See how they weave from one question to the next and then rollover to more business related topics.
  3. Engage In Small Talk … Take every opportunity to engage in “small talk.” When you are in the checkout line at the store. With a server in a restaurant. With the receptionist at your next appointment. Wherever.

The more you use these three tactics, the more comfortable you’ll get at small talk. The more comfortable you get, the better you will become. You might even grow to enjoy it. And even if you don’t, the better you become, the more you will benefit from small talk.

By the way, did you see the game last night?

 

 

Frank Agin, President & Founder, AmSpirit Business Connections

 

 

 

 

Frank Agin is the founder and president of AmSpirit Business Connections, an organization that empowers entrepreneurs, sales representatives and professionals to become more successful through networking. In addition, he speaks for and consults with companies and individuals in various industries to help them become more effective with their networking efforts, business relationship management, and use of social media. Finally, Frank is the author of several professional development books, including: "Foundational Networking: Creating Know, Like & Trust For A Lifetime of Extraordinary Success," "The Champion: Finding the Most Valuable Person In Your Network" and "Chase Greatness: Life Lessons Revealed Through Sports."

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