A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published a piece called The End of Small Talk. The author, Tim Boomer, told a personal story that led him to elevate the conversations he was having with female companions. Tim made me think about the business context of how we engage with people in our network. Do we treat our time as precious or do we waste it with small talk?
What is “small talk” in business?
My idea of small talk in business is often discussion of:
- “What’s happening?” or “How are you?” with a casual interest in the top line story that is then shared–often soundbites like “Been crazy-busy…”
- Gossip about people or the company without any interest in the heart of what’s really underneath some conflict or issue.
- A verbal resume swap (e.g., education, work, geography, etc.).
Yes, you might need to do some of this talk, but notice the amount of time and whether you automatically default to small talk in certain situations.
What could be “bigger talk?”
Given the pressure on time, we might have to actually be intentional about what we talk about. Or, we can listen to the casual drone of our lunchtime talk and stop it and transition to a question like:
- What’s keeping you up at night? And, why? And, how can I be a sounding board?
- What challenges have you faced like this current one? What did you do or see done? Who was most influential in meeting that challenge?
- If you put aside your job, what are you passionate about in your longer-term career?
Then turn it around and consider what you share with people who are important to you. Do you regurgitate your daily activities (e.g., how long it took you to drive to work today, etc.)? Or, are you prepared to make really good use of your shared time?
The bonus to big talk is a far more interesting conversation.
This week, just notice where your talk is small or big, and consider what the value to either type of talk. Then, ratchet up your game with two or three people.