The Big Benefits of Small Talk

Recently, I listened in on a call between one of our Career Strategists, Saundra Botts, and an executive who was considering retaining our services to help with his job search. What jumped out at me was how natural the conversation felt, and I realized that must be because at the beginning of the call she asked a lot of “getting to know you” type questions. These were more foundational type questions about where he lived and what he liked to do. There was a back-and-forth flow that established a comfort level and even trust very quickly as they found common likes and experiences. This made it easier for them to discuss the executive’s career path and goals for the future… and for her to point out areas of improvement on his resume and job search approach and what she’d advise him to work on with a coach.

This was the art of small talk put into action.

two-women-talkingIt turns out that spending the time and effort upfront to create or renew connection through small talk actually makes for better productivity. Through small talk we make a quick connection with someone, learn about them, and get a peek at their communication style and personality… all important elements for meaningful conversations. Creating a safe space to talk and a feeling of “s/he gets me” creates bonds that lead to greater creativity and productivity. If you’re in a job interview, you got in the door because you’re qualified… you get the job because you’re a great fit. Connecting through small talk helps with that. Small talk is a fantastic way to connect with people in any situation… and chances are you’re not as good at it as you could be.

How much effort do you put into connecting with people?

I cannot emphasize how important connecting really is. I’m not only talking about with your spouse or children, though it’s obviously vital to connect with them. I am talking about with colleagues, business associates, interviewers, or even random people you meet. Do you really make it a priority to form a connection when you interact with them, or do you simply jump into whatever agenda you have?

Too many of us are focused on what we need to get done and don’t spend nearly as much time in the soft skills arena as we should.

My suggestion today is to be mindful of how you begin conversations. Try to avoid starting with your agenda, and instead focus on what they are thinking, feeling, experiencing. Use small talk to let them know they are in a safe place to talk before moving onto the “agenda items.” This goes for all conversations, not just the ones you expect to be difficult.

The long-term dividends of this approach will be significant for your results and how people perceive you… and you’ll surely have some enjoyable conversations along the way!

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is ExecuNet's president and chief economist. An Arjay Miller Scholar, Mark received his MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Yale University. He joined ExecuNet in 1993, with extensive marketing and new product and business development experience, having served as president and founder of A&M Associates, an investment management firm. Mark's corporate leadership experience includes several senior marketing and financial positions with RCA Global Communications (a GE subsidiary) and American Can Company.

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