BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
Small talk is bad for you.
I’m half kidding.
In 2010, research showed that small talk was associated with lower life satisfaction. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’ve been networking once or twice, you’ve probably discussed the weather or your awkward weekend more times than you needed to. It’s unsurprising that a paper by Psychological Sciencesuggested that small talk was associated with unhappiness.
The reason I’m half kidding? A new study by the same researchers could replicate everything about the study except the negative associations between small talk and life satisfaction. Matthias Mehl, the University of Arizona professor in charge of both studies stated, ‘…people who are more satisfied with their lives have more substantive conversation.’
While small talk isn’t bad for you, meaningful talk is better for you and your wellbeing.
How do you make this happen in a networking situation where you’re meeting people for potentially the first time, and you not only have to leave a great impression but also your business card, and hopefully get a call back for some kind of interview or collaboration, and you don’t want to tell them too much because that would be weird, right and what if you can ONLY talk about the weather and (GASPING FOR AIR) there’s SO MUCH PRESSURE?!
Small talk isn’t as hard or awful as people make it out to be – and there are a few key things you can immediately do to improve both how you feel about it and to dig into some more meaningful, and still safe for work, topics.
If you don’t think about WHO you’re talking to, you’re not going to be able to talk to them. You don’t have to do a quick Google stalk on everyone in the room before you say hi, but you do need to know who might be there. Is this personal or professional? What do you want from these people? What might they want from you? Are they looking to hire people or date people? Is it a work event, a conference, a bar, a meetup? Dig in to the audience to see WHO they are, and what they might WANT out of the situation – as well as what you want. For example, if you’re going to a professional networking situation and you want to meet people that might help you find a job, or give you a job, you’re going to look at the situation far differently than if you were to head to a girls’ night out.
The phrase ‘elevator pitch’ originally came from the idea of introducing yourself or what you do in a short amount of time – usually the amount of time you spend in an elevator traveling from floor to floor.
This actually sounds terrible: imagine being on an elevator ride and spending that amount of time word-vomiting at someone who you are, what you do and why they should care.
Instead of ambushing someone with your words, think first about that audience. Let’s use the situation of going to a potential networking event for a new position – some of the people there work at companies you’d like to interview with. You craft your elevator pitch FOR those people – and think about why they might care about meeting you. Saying, ‘Hi, I’m Jen, I’m looking for a new position in sales’ might be a nice way in – also, simply saying ‘Hi, I’m Jen’ and going right into my next tip might be your winning combination if the above statement sounds terrifying…
Listen and Ask Questions
A recent study by Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab showed that when people are talking about themselves, the pleasure areas of the brain light up – comparable to the stimuli of good food, sex and cocaine.
Aside from this being a topic in itself, asking someone about their day and truly listening, and asking more questions out of curiosity, generally results in those small talk conversations making a move to the meaningful. For example, asking someone what they do, and then listening for bits of information that are interesting to you that you can further question them about will lead to a more substantial conversation. If someone talks about how their day was full of a lot of change and adventure, you might ask what kind of adventure (or change, depending on which one interests you more!). By actively paying attention to the person talking, you’re giving yourself information to be curious about – and questions that you can ask to learn more. If someone leaves a conversation with you feeling great, they will associate those great feelings with you!
These are only a few tips to get your small talk game off the ground and out of the clouds. Stay tuned for more on making the most out of small talk. So how are you today?