Small Talk Plays a Big Role in Business

small talk

I can’t stand small talk.

For me, it’s an awkward waste of time, regardless of whether we’re chatting about the weather, your kids or something that’s going on in the news.

But maybe it’s also because I’m not very good at it.

So I’ve opted for a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to anything business-related… which works well with some people and puts less pressure on myself. But for many others—to whom small talk is an obligatory social, cultural and corporate protocol—this approach makes me come across as abrupt and unfriendly.

Then again, I almost always use email for professional communication, so this effort is almost never required. But I’ve also knowingly missed out on several opportunities because of my dislike (or perhaps fear) of small talk. And if you make phone and video calls, or often have to converse with acquaintances and strangers face to face, then chances are that small talk’s a necessary formality. In fact, there are some situations in which it’s almost mandatory:

  • At networking events
  • During contract negotiations
  • Job hunting and attending interviews
  • Before and after business transactions
  • While acquiring or meeting customers
  • When communicating with long-term clients
  • In an elevator, on the train, in a queue…

Small Talk in Communication Culture

Andy Molinsky, a Professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior, stresses the importance of American small talk:

“There’s nothing small about the role that small talk plays in American professional culture. People from other countries are often surprised at how important small talk is in the U.S. and how naturally and comfortably people seem to do it — with peers, subordinates, men, women, and even with superiors…

You can be the most technically skilled worker in the world, but your ability to progress in your job and move up the corporate ladder in the United States is highly dependent on your ability to build and maintain positive relationships with people at work. And guess what skill is critical for building and maintaining these relationships? Small talk…

…small talk is essential to bond with colleagues, create a positive relationship with your boss, and win the trust and respect of clients, suppliers, and people in your extended professional network. What is also crucial in the eyes of a potential employer, boss, or client is whether they feel they can trust you — and whether they like you and want to work with you. The ability to forge connections and relationships through small talk is a critical tool for achieving this purpose.”

So even though it might seem pointless at times, small talk can in handy and produce some good results. Specifically, it can:

  1. Strengthen social and communication skills
  2. Keep you informed about industry news & events
  3. Lead to unexpected opportunities
  4. Make you more likeable and approachable
  5. Reinforce ongoing professional relationships

What are your thoughts on small talk? Are you as bad at it as I am?

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