Be consistent & do it often
In my last written blog I talked about how I came to like people and I feel like this is a natural follow on from that.
Leaders who are task focused often see small talk as annoying and a waste of time. And it is, if you’re looking for instant results. The benefits of small talk are realised over a longer period of time, where conversations are consistent and regular.
For your people to connect with you they need to feel like you have a vested interest in who they are as people, both in and out of work. The best way to take an interest is to learn a little about them on a regular basis.
For some leaders this means stopping for a five minute chat with a couple of your people in your team on the way in each morning. Perhaps you take time to chat in the kitchen when making a coffee. Or, you might do it in the afternoon when you’re lower on energy or avoiding that piece of work that should really be done in the morning when you’re fresh. It doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as you do it!
The key to small talk is that it isn’t about you, it’s centered around the person you’re speaking with. Sure, you can start the conversation, with whatever topic comes to mind, but be sure to listen more than you speak. It’s through asking questions that you can learn to really understand where the other person is coming from.
Be prepared to talk about any topic, even if you know nothing about it or it doesn’t interest you in the slightest. Two of the most interesting conversations I’ve had this year have been about knitting (this, not so little, industry blew my mind) and curling which has an incredible following. Just because it’s not what you like to talk about doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the conversation. Be open to expanding your perspective and learning a little more about how others live and experience the world.
If you’re struggling to start the conversation, The Muse wrote an article with 48 questions you can ask. Alternatively, just become curious about what’s going on in the world. If someone in your team has an interest, you know nothing about, do some research. I don’t mean PHD type research, I just mean start to notice things in the media or look it up on Wikipedia.
I find FlipBoard, Medium and TED are all great sources of information and offer a different way of looking at things. The insights you gain can then be used in future small talk conversations to deepen your connection with your people.
The key to making small talk meaningful is that the conversation doesn’t become a “<insert name> show”! Be prepared to walk away from conversations with your staff having only said a few words about yourself or how you feel about a particular topic. If you can centre the discussion around them, they will feel that you care and will be more interested in listening to you when it’s your turn to speak.
Need help? Give me a call!
Shelley Flett is an expert in leadership development and team performance. With over a decade of experience in customer service and operations across banking & telecommunications she is focused on maximising efficiency and building high performance team cultures. As author of The Direction Dilemma Shelley works with leaders and business owners across a variety of industries to break through their challenges and help them progress.
If you’d like to have a chat about how Shelley can support you please drop her an email firstname.lastname@example.org.