Posted by OfficeTeam on Friday, July 29, 2016 - 11:00 | Follow me
It’s called making small talk, and almost all of us are compelled to do it on occasion.
“Is it still hot out there?”
“Did you watch the game last night?”
“How was your weekend?”
If you dismiss making small talk as fluffy and frivolous, we have news for you: Small talk isn’t necessarily small — or at least the purpose it serves isn’t.
In fact, chitchat at the water cooler can make you seem accessible instead of stuffy. Making small talk allows admin professionals to show who they are, to let their personality shine through to others.
Let’s take a closer look at why this is important and the value of an effective small talk conversation in the office, at professional events and when searching for a new job. Along the way, you can grab some tips for mastering the art of small talk and feeling comfortable engaging in it.
Why make the effort to chitchat?
Making small talk can pay big dividends when it comes to your career. Here are some benefits of taking the time to engage in a small talk conversation:
Though small talk topics are light and relatively insubstantial (hey, that’s why it’s called small talk), the very act of making small talk can create connection and rapport with your colleagues, supervisor, outside clients and business vendors. Small talk can become the bridge that leads to feelings of trust and comfort with others.
Small talk is especially important for administrative professionals, who are often the face of the company or department. It’s a soft skill, along with other forms of communication, that can lead to deeper discussions and stronger bonds with others in your current job — or with hiring managers if you’re trying to land a new position.
Research from the University of Arizona has shown that people’s feelings of well-being are generally higher when engaged in any kind of talking compared with when they are silent. While the research showed that discussing more substantive, meaningful topics produced the highest mood lift, idle chitchat (say about food or the weather) was also found to increase happiness.
Boosting brain power
A study by University of Michigan researchers found that friendly short-term social interactions — in other words, a small talk conversation — boosted performance and problem-solving ability. Even basic “get-to-know-you” chatter resulted in cognitive boosts.
Tips for being better at making small talk
Making small talk doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re an introvert, networking and other professional events that involve schmoozing may feel intimidating. Even extraverts may try to avoid this type of conversation when they can.
Whether you’re apprehensive about making small talk or can’t wait to get started, these tactics can help get the ball rolling:
Watch for signs
Some situations invite a small talk conversation while others offer red flags that suggest it’s probably best to skip it. Learning to distinguish the difference can have a major effect on the success of your efforts at making small talk.
Whether with strangers at an industry event, during the job search process or with colleagues in the office, keep an eye out for body language that suggests people are open to small talk — as well as signs that they’d rather keep to themselves. For example, if someone makes eye contact with you, it’s likely a sign that he or she is eager to chat. If someone deliberately avoids eye contact, is trying to concentrate or looks away consistently when you try to connect, then the person is probably not in the mood.
Want to get better at reading the subtle signs and signals of your colleagues and coworkers? Download Business Sense: Putting Your Intuition to Work for the insight you need.
Practice the basics
When it comes to your own “small talk signals,” a little eye contact can go a long way in helping you initiate a connection with someone. It takes time to develop this skill and make it seem natural, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Practice in a low-risk environment, like with trusted friends or colleagues, before taking it “on the road.”
Also try to keep the conversational focus on the other person to avoid becoming too self-conscious — you might even drop a sincere compliment if you can do so naturally.
Find common ground
Small talk isn’t about having difficult conversations or bringing up controversial topics. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of small talk! Successfully making small talk is all about establishing an authentic connection, and a great way to get there is to find something you have in common with another person.
Once you’ve found a common issue, be careful not to overshare and dominate the conversation with your own views about it. If you can get the other person talking and can be a good listener, you’ll have a better chance of developing sincere rapport. The small talk topics below will help you identify likely areas of mutual interest.
Key small talk topics
If you’re nervous about making small talk, it can help to have some ready-to-go small talk topics up your sleeve. Remember, your goal of starting a small talk conversation is to build rapport by identifying something that you have in common with the other person.
Whether you’re trying to work the room, in the first awkward moments of a job interview or riding the elevator with your supervisor, these small talk topics can help break the ice:
Most people love an opportunity to talk about themselves, and they’ll have a positive impression of you if you give them this chance.
Asking polite general questions about someone’s background can be an easy way of making small talk. Questions about where the person grew up, went to school or has traveled are fair game, as are queries about what brought him or her to the area if you’re meeting at an event.
Shoptalk is an instant connecter when you’re in a professional situation and is a great way to discover quick commonality. If you’re at a networking event with people in different industries, asking someone about what they do and sharing what you do as an administrative professional can bridge the gap and turn strangers into acquaintances.
You might ask what company they work for, what their roles are there or what made them choose their line of work. With current colleagues, you might ask their opinion about a departmental project or emerging topic within the administrative field.
If you can discover an outside activity that you have in common with someone, you’ll be off to the races in your small talk conversation.
Before meeting with a hiring manager or talking to a recruiter during your job search, it can pay to check LinkedIn to see if the profile gives clues as to the person’s outside interests. If you aren’t sure about a colleague’s or conference attendee’s interests, stick with general questions about hobbies, sports, vacations or other outside pursuits.
In short, there’s a lot more to making small talk than meets the eye. As a form of communication that can grease the wheels to relationship building and open doors to professional opportunities as an admin, you would be wise to master the art of small talk.
Looking to advance your administrative career? Check out OfficeTeam’s training and job search resources.