The use case for social media to develop business relationships gets a bad rap. Social platforms have the reputation of being where people tweet that they’re going to the bathroom, take selfies in their car, photograph their chicken salad sandwich, and test out the newest dance craze. These posts are viewed as irrelevant at best – foolishness at worst.
It’s drivel. It’s meaningless. It’s small talk. So why should your business invest in social?
I mean, who cares what someone ate for breakfast?
The truth is, we all care.
Business is Built with Relationships
We all know that we do business with people we “know, like, and trust.” I can hear you saying it out loud while you’re reading it. It’s a cliché because it’s true. In business, this is why we put a huge emphasis on likability.
It’s not a fair world. It’s not about the best product. We don’t hire the best candidate. We don’t promote the best person. We promote, hire, and purchase from people we like. It’s changing with the diversity and inclusion landscape – but that’s another blog post.
So how can you become likable in business? Engage in effective small talk.
Small Talk Builds Business Relationships
Small talk builds business relationships. If you agree, you’re done reading. If you’re in doubt, let’s take a step back. What is small talk?
You may think about discussing the weather trends as small talk. Meaning, the talk is unimportant. Does it matter if you discuss whether Aaron Rodgers will retire next season? No. The Packers won’t take your advice and neither will Aaron Rodgers or his agent. What small talk does, however, is determine whether or not the person next to you at the pub, conference or dinner is willing to continue to talk to you.
If small talk is bad, what are we supposed to talk about anyway? Are we supposed to solve the energy crisis with a stranger at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast? Do you sit down next to a person at a conference and pour out your latest heartbreak? No. You don’t. Why? Because “big talk” is often inappropriate in public, business settings.
Small talk’s role in our lives is far from small. People who think we waste time talking about our cat, lunch, etc. fail to appreciate that small talk is the structure upon which business relationships are built. Small talk naysayers are often self-conscious about their small talk skills.
“One of the hardest things about small talk is finding something to talk about besides the weather. But, pro networkers have figured out that most people like to talk about themselves. Take that and run with it.” Vernon Gunnarson
Small Talk is an Emotional Bridge
In personal relationships, small talk is a bridge to an emotional discussion. It’s dipping your toe in the conversation water to make sure its temperature isn’t too hot or too cold. It helps you evaluate the emotional status of your potential conversationalist.
So what does this have to do with business? All relationships contain a personal element – even in business. If you’re an employee, you need to have an emotional bridge – psychological safety – so that you can have harder discussions – like policy change, promotion opportunities, and even grievances.
Dismissing small talk as banal and pedestrian puts you at a major disadvantage in business settings. All team building requires psychological safety. That doesn’t happen without small talk. With regards to business mentorships, cutting off small talk may cut you off from larger conversations and, ultimately, deeper connections. Keep this in mind the next time someone asks you an annoying question like, “What are you doing?” It may be they’re just testing the waters.
Do you remember the last time you approached someone with a request? How did you start?
“Many times, much as in the outside world, family members preface a highly anxious issue with small talk. If you can listen without dismissal to what seems like small talk by a spouse, child, teen or parent, you may facilitate an opportunity for crucial disclosure.” Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP
But Small Talk is Annoying and Difficult
It was for me, too, before I started. You do it on social media the same way as in real life. Starting conversations with questions helps – especially if they are open-ended questions. This only backfires if you’re talking to someone shyer than you. The truth is that most people like to talk about themselves. It’s just a fact.
Practice. Read “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” Learn how to actively listen.
The next wedding you attend, ask a stranger how they know the bride. At your next meetup, ask the person a question about the subject matter. This is a great way to get better at small talk. It will not happen without practice.
“Small talk can lead to a host of outcomes, from a merely pleasant exchange to the signing of multimillion-dollar business deal.” Brett Nelson, Forbes
Believe me, I used to panic while entering rooms full of people I don’t know. With practice, I found that a smile and greeting goes a long way and even people waiting for an elevator can have a perfectly good conversation. Why not leverage that opportunity?
Small Talk 2.0 – Build Business Relationships Online
Enter social media. Specifically, Twitter. I think this is where most people meet others, though I could be wrong. For me, it’s where I’m open to conversations (small talk) with strangers. I could babble on incessantly about how much my life has changed because of the people I met. Let’s settle for one use case.
While working for a commercial general contractor, I met a Commercial Real Estate broker on Twitter. The good thing is that he also worked in the same geographical area as Riggins Construction. After interacting and reading Allen’s content, I knew he and my boss would hit it off. I had a crazy idea. Let’s all do lunch. At first, I was nervous. After all, this was my very first sales call.
But when Allen walked into the restaurant, all anxiety disappeared. It was all smiles and handshakes. The awkward small talk wasn’t awkward – it didn’t exist. Why? We did it online. We sat as friends because we were friends.
“Small talk is not wasted talk. It’s a social lubricant as essential as wine and laughter that allows strangers to make crucial first connections across demographic lines. And it’s far from meaningless.” Ruth Graham
Now, the next time you see someone you have a basis for continuing the friendship. You no longer need to talk about sports or weather — though you can. You can level up.
You can ask a question you’ve been dying to ask. You can tell them how you liked the blog post they wrote last week. You can brainstorm, collaborate, and actually become friends.
Small Talk Builds Trust in Business Relationships
The value of small talk is this: it builds trust over time. When it comes to business relationships, trust is the intangible element that makes our community stronger. I’m not going to tell you where I live, my first kiss, or my darkest secret right off the bat. Would you?
The point is this. Humans are social. We create business relationships by communicating. This includes body language, tone, inflection, micro-gestures, laughter, tears, expressions, and, yes, small talk.
If you want people to like you, be likable. There is no way around that.
Or, just enjoy your next business dinner for one in the corner. Alone.