I love walking to meetings with Mike because he almost always has a thought-provoking question or anecdote about his weekend. First he asks “what is the proper way to eat shrimp from a martini glass?” Then he tells you how he accidentally sprayed his boss with cocktail sauce. Mike is a master of small conversations. And, he can always get a favor from me and from scores of his colleagues.
What’s the difference between small talk and a small conversation? Small talk feels stilted. It’s like a play with bad actors who want to get offstage. A small conversation gives you a little boost of energy and a human connection. It can make you laugh or give you a nugget of wisdom. It can help you see your colleagues as real people and vice versa. It can improve your relationships and the network of people who want to help you.
And, according to a study at the Stanford University School of Business (Hansen and Harrell) which tracked MBAs 20 years after graduation, grade point averages had no bearing on their financial success, but their ability to converse with others did.
Here are 5 easy ways to improve your small conversations:
- Make it real – Disclose something that is not too personal but something that is right now on your heart, head or hands (what are you feeling, thinking and doing?). If you are authentic, the chances of the other person being real will increase. If you keep it fake and safe, the chances of things staying in that realm are strong. Take a small risk and see what happens. Are you happy about your kid getting an A? Are you frustrated with traffic? Are you still laughing at the [clean] joke you heard on the radio? Are you looking forward to your class reunion?
- Make it useful – Think of it as a time to get some ideas on things you are working on. Share what you are stuck on and then pause to allow the other person a chance to comment. Whether it’s how to get the wallpaper off the powder room walls or why the system keeps crashing, you just may end up with a thought that helps you solve a problem.
- Make it a time to learn about the other person – what was the highlight of their weekend? Where did they go on vacation? What was their favorite holiday gift? Ask a good question and then pause and listen. Maintain eye contact and don’t look around the room while they are talking to you. Ask a follow-up question and listen some more. Don’t tell about your vacation the second they get the first sentence out of their mouth.
- Follow up – next time you see the person, ask about their home improvement project or their new pet. Continue to learn more.
- Notice what you share with friends and family — you may find a snippet of the week to use elsewhere. Maybe you tweet or facebook. I often email my dad with small updates about my family. The process of writing creates a reflection about “current events” that I can then share with others. Sometimes I share his snippet and sometimes I share mine.
We are on this earth for a short time, why not make small conversations a building block to stronger connections with those around us? Who knows? your career may get a lift too.