The power of chit-chat

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Well-planned small talk can lead to seriously big things.

Small talk topics are the best source of conversation between people who don’t know each other well. In fact, small talk is more than an act of politeness: it’s crucial for success in different spheres of life. And if you hate small talk, doing your best to avoid it, you’re cutting yourself off from meaningful social interactions.

Big relationships are built on small talk. Networking events, dinner parties with friends, or even standing in a queue for coffee all require good conversational skills. However, any Tom, Dick or Harry can talk about news or the weather. What you should do is to elevate yourself above such inane talk and master some pretty powerful tactics.

The job interview
When the interview isn’t in progress, you’re required to make pithy conversation. This could be dangerous ground for haphazard small talk. Beware the urge to start blabbing.

Instead, make him/her talk. Small talk operates on the principle of vanity. Ask the interviewer how long he/she has been at the company and how the job was landed. And then ask whether he/she is enjoying the company culture. Soon, you may find yourself being liked and better yet, you won’t have to say a word.

In the boss’s office
Venture into the realm of your boss’s office and jocularity flies out the window. Later, when you realise how half-witted you sounded, you want to slash your wrists. Bottom line, avoid these painful experiences by being prepared.

Understand your boss’s personality. For the analytical type, talk about work or the industry. Amiable types want to talk sport or leisure activities. Better yet if you know what his/her hobbies are, you can enter the lion’s den armed with an interesting factual titbit or anything that might pique his/her interest.

In the presence of juniors
You’re stuck in the reception area with a youngster who’s still wet behind the ears. Which means you have absolutely nothing to say to him. Be nice to him, because you never know where he’ll end up, as Bill Gates famously said about liking nerds.

Tell him you like his idea, his sneakers, or his style in dealing with unresponsive printers. Complimenting a junior creates a fan base. He’ll probably tell his peers that you aren’t really a stuck-up so-and-so. So, basically this tactic is called ‘cultivating favours’.

Meeting a media personality
Mingling at a function, you happen to land next to a business tycoon or sport star. The important thing is not to sound like yet another pathetic has-been. Don’t refer to their achievements – they’ve heard it ad infinitum. Instead, ask him/her about future plans.

Resist the urge to talk about your desire to write a book. Let them talk about themselves (everyone’s favourite topic), nod and be on your way. At least you wouldn’t have sounded like a dope.

Small talk tips
Every new person you converse with in life represents a unique opportunity. Bear in mind that many great business partnerships and long-term relationships started with simple small talk. Never talk about something too personal. Forbidden topics are the person’s health, religion, and political views. Just keep your chatting light and ask questions about interests, job, or surroundings.

Fire off your conversation with open-ended small talk questions. For instance, “What do you do?” followed by, “Why did you choose that type of work?”

Most importantly, practise active listening. That involves consciously paying attention to the speaker’s words, making eye contact for about 60% of the time and never interrupting or preparing your reply while the other person is speaking.

Aristotle’s famous argument that ‘man is by nature a social animal’ holds true, because feeling socially connected increases happiness and health, whereas feeling disconnected is depressing and unhealthy. All the more reason to be social with strangers, thus creating connections which might lead to big, big things.