Ahhh, a new year has begun. How are you feeling?
Optimistic? Hopeful? Energised? Can’t wait to sink your teeth into new projects and work with new collaborators?
(⚡”sink your teeth into something” is an idiomatic expression that means to be completely involved in something)
I know the feeling. I have just started working with a new team and I am loving it.
It’s a wonderful feeling when you can bounce your ideas off (share your ideas with) other people, especially if you run your own business and work on your own most of the time (like me).
The recipe to successful teamwork is not just about the work you do together. It’s also about the human relationship you have with each other. What do I mean by human relationship? I mean the connection you develop with the person NOT just with their role.
No one wants to feel they’re just a function. There is a person behind that job title who has feelings, hobbies, interests and a life outside work. They have a lot more they can contribute than just work.
Listen to the post
But how do you get behind that professional persona?
By engaging with them.
The first step to meaningful engagement is through small talk.
For those of you who’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I am a huge fan of the precious value small talk has in our professional lives. If you’re to succeed in business, you must develop strong bonds with people whether those bonds are with your co-workers, superiors, customers or clients.
And these strong bonds start with small talk – that apparently superficial chit chat that occurs outside and around the ‘more important’ business discussions.
Many people try and avoid small talk for a number of reasons. It could be:
- cultural (you’re from a culture that considers small talk a waste of time);
- you’re an introvert and find small talk excruciatingly difficult;
- you simply don’t know what to say, especially in English;
- you don’t know where to start;
- you don’t want to talk about things you’re not interested in.
Feel free to add to this list.
The point is though…small talk is inevitable, and looked at positively, is an excellent way of finding out what ‘sits behind’ the other person’s professional persona.
In this post, I want to add a few more suggestions on how you could captivate at small talk in English and truly engage with your conversation partner.
#1 Share anecdotes
There’s nothing better than sharing stories or anecdotes with someone. That shows the other person that you can relate to what they’re saying or have experienced. That forms a bond.
For example, if your partner says he or she spent time living in another country and you did as well, share a story or two about your years abroad. You’ll most likely encourage the other person to tell you about some similar memories.
#2 Allow the other person to teach you
If you’re not familiar with a subject, be honest and ask the other person to explain a little more. The chances are they’ll be delighted to go into more detail and you get to learn something new. If you’re an inquisitive (curious) person, you’ll love it.
This goes back to the idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking other people to explain what they mean might prompt them to talk for a few more minutes and it takes the pressure off you for a while.
#3 Practise with everyone you meet
If small talk is outside your comfort zone, practise small talk with everyone you meet. It could be with the barista at your favourite coffee bar, with your dry cleaner when you pick up your dry cleaning, or with your hairdresser’s.
Even if this practice is in your own language, it will allow you to start feeling comfortable with striking up (starting) and maintaining interesting conversations.
What you can then do is imagine having these conversations in English and recording them.
#4 Copy good conversationalists
If you watch talk shows or listen to podcasts, listen to the talk show hosts and their guests.
Try to remember the kinds of questions they ask, how they follow up on the other person’s answers, and even how they make use of silence.
One of my favourite talk show hosts is Graham Norton on the BBC. He knows how to make his guests feel comfortable and engage with him freely.
#5: Talk about something that happened to you
Instead of asking a stranger you meet at a conference or someone you don’t know that well a question, you could start the conversation by telling them something that happened to you earlier in the day.
This allows the person to ask you a question or add what they know to the topic. For example, you could say: “I had the funniest conversation with my son this morning”.
If you’re a social media user and often post comments about your experiences, you could use those as an example.
# 6: Introduce some of your past failures
Have you noticed that when people talk about their successes and accomplishments, the reaction from the other person is a simple nod of the head and mumbled “Congratulations”? The conversation soon fades away.
However, when we share our past failures they feel more comfortable. Not because they’re happy you’ve failed, but because these failures resonate with them too.
“I was in a presentation the other day. I raised my hand to ask a question and when the presenter invited me to ask it, my mind went completely blank! I spent the next couple of minutes talking about anything and everything frantically trying to remember my question so as not to look a complete idiot. What a nightmare.”
This will get a lot of laughs as people will relate to these moments of sudden blankness and start sharing their stories too. They’ll also feel relieved that it doesn’t just happen to them.
#7: Know that you’re not alone
I think this is so important. You’re not the only one who finds small talk uncomfortable, even more so in English. Some people may look confident but deep down they’re struggling and have worked hard to improve their small talk skills. So don’t think it’s just you and don’t feel ashamed if you find it hard to engage in small talk. You will improve with time – one tiny step at a time.
Thanks for reading and listening
Ciao for now.
****Coming next week*****
A brand new version of my popular e-book + workbook “Small Talk To Go” hits the EWAT e-book store on 19 January 2018. This new version will include an audiobook that will allow you to listen to the authentic conversations I created in the book.
If you want to get sneak peeks of the book and the special offer when the e-book goes on sale, be sure to join the EWAT community today (see below).