The ability to make small talk with your coworkers may seem like just a small thing; or like something that is not that big of a deal. But I would argue that your ability to converse with others is, in fact, something that can make a big impact. In fact, CNN.com reports that Debra Fine, the author of "The Fine Art of Small Talk" states that the ability to make small talk is not just about schmoozing. It's about developing and exercising an ability to connect with others, which can lead to big things in the business world. Your ability to converse with others has a lot more bearing on your success at your job than, say, your college grade point average or the university you attended.
So to fine-tune your own small talk skills at work and at networking functions, use the following tips:
Listen more than you talk. Anyone who dominates a conversation tends to appear pushy. Allow your partner to speak. Do not interrupt him or her.
Make eye contact. Stay focused on the person to whom you are speaking. Be attentive. Do not glace around the room.
Begin a conversation with a compliment. Try to make the compliment specific and open-ended, such as, "That's a great tie knot you have. Is it a Four In Hand?" Or, "I like that watch that you have on. Was it a gift?" Also, if you receive a compliment, do not give a self-deprecating answer such as, "Oh, I'm so tired today, there's no way I look nice." Instead, thank the person, and use it as a gateway to start a conversation. You can always turn the compliment around back to the person, too. For example: If someone says, "I like your sweater," your response could be, "Thank you.
Watch your body language. Try to avoid standing with your arms crossed, which can be seen as a defensive post. Try to keep your post open and relaxed.
Have something interesting to contribute. Often our small talk consists only of:
"How are you today?"
"I'm fine, thanks."
This is not very interesting or personal. It's generic. Instead, try asking questions such as, "Hey, did you catch (fill in name of popular tv show here) last night?" Or, if you're at a networking event, try a neutral observation such as, "Attendance seems to be pretty good this month."
Avoid long-winded and overly personal stories. "Small talk" is thus named because it should really not be too personal or controversial. Bringing up current events is fine. But try to avoid anything that could cause a major riff.
Have a graceful exit line. Politely and gracefully exiting a conversation is a lot better than having it drag or fizzle out. Things like "I'm on my way to (where), it was nice speaking with you," or, "Excuse me, I need to catch (fill in name here) before he leaves the office" work well.
Make a major effort to remember names. I know a lot of people have a hard time with this, but it is important. Make a concerted effort to remember people's names. If you can not, politely say something to the effect of, "I'm so sorry I've forgotten your name." Could you please remind me? " If someone hands you his or her business card, take the time to read it carefully, then place it in your wallet. Do not shove it in your pocket without looking at it, as this makes it seem like it is not valued.
By Michael D Taylor