Relationships are Built Upon Small Talk

Relationships are Built Upon Small Talk

Social media gets a bad wrap for being a place where people tweet that they’re going to the bathroom, take selfies in their car, and review their chicken salad. It’s just small talk. So why invest?

I mean, who cares what you ate for breakfast?

The truth is, we all care.

Warning: Snark Ahead

I was sitting at a graduation party some years back, suddenly on the Defense for Facebook v People. “Our family doesn’t use Facebook,” he said. His wife chimed in saying they had better things to do. People only talk about nonsense anyway.

What you don’t know is we has spent the previous 20 minutes discussing what the best dog shampoo was.

Twenty minutes.

Are you with me?

So, yeah. Social media is stupid, because I could have asked my friends on Facebook what their favorite pet shampoo was and had crowdsourced that answer in minutes — with links to Amazon.

Of course, I stepped up to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, presented my case, and closed it.

Today, they are on Facebook.

Small Talk Is A Relationship Builder

I feel like I’ve written about this before. Maybe I just keep saying it. And honestly, are we supposed to solve the energy crisis with a stranger? Do you sit down next to a person you’ve never met and pour out your latest heartbreak? I mean, maybe you do. I bet it’s cathartic, but that person is going to think you’re strange — at best.

It’s called small talk but it plays no small role in our lives. The people who think we waste time talking about our cat, lunch, etc. don’t understand that small talk is the structure relationships are built upon.

Office Watercooler

Where’s the office watercooler? What do you talk about with your coworkers? Who won what game and by how many points? What a ripoff that so-and-so didn’t win America’s Got Talent? Debate over the meaning of the season finale of Game of Thrones?

None of that chit chat is going to solve the problems in the middle east or bring water to a village in Africa. Does that mean it has no value?

Absolutely not.

Small talk is very valuable.

Small Talk is a Bridge

Often small talk is a bridge to an emotional discussion. It’s dipping your toe in the water to make sure its temperature isn’t too hot or too cold. It helps you evaluate the emotional status of your potential conversationalist.

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

Cutting off small talk may cut you off to larger conversations and deeper connection. Remember that the next time someone asks you an annoying question like, “What are you doing?” It may be they’re just testing the waters.

Business is Built with Relationships

I wrote about relationship marketing extensively over on WordImpress, but suffice it to say that we do business with people we like. 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.

We may invent a six-party interview system with scoring and blind reviews, but we still choose people based upon our own instinct.

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 help, especially if they are open-ended questions. This only backfires if you’re talking to someone more shy than you are. 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, you can ask the person to the left 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 have major panic when it comes to entering rooms full of people I don’t know and I find that it is hard to talk. But, even people waiting for an elevator can have a perfectly good conversation. Why not leverage that opportunity?

Small Talk 2.0

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 been changed because of the people I met there, but it would be boring.

I will settle with a case in point. In a former job at a contractor, I had met a Commercial Real Estate broker in our County. I knew he and my boss would hit it off. After a few exchanges over a period of time I convinced them both to meet for lunch. At first, I was nervous. After all, this was my very first sales call — of sorts.

But when Allen walked in the restaurant 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

Small Talk, The Sequel

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.

Small Talk Builds Trust

The value in small talk is this: it builds trust. I’m not going to tell you where I live, my first kiss, or my darkest secret right off the bat. Even though I’ve come across elitists who think small talk is mindless, I’m surprised at how many blog posts also say that. I even read one in the NYTimes about a “no small talk rule” when dating. Seriously? I wonder how that’s working out for you, pal. Or would that be small talk to ask?

The point is this. Humans are social. We create 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 dinner for one in the corner. Alone.


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