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WORKPLACE PERSPECTIVES│SAFFIRE LEGAL, PC: 2016 Holiday Survival Guide

Engaging In Small Talk And Socializing

In our last article we talked about being a good host and a good guest. Today’s article provides tips on engaging in small talk and socializing.

Tis the season! Mix and mingle with a holiday business twist. And, even though it may feel at times like a never-ending milk run, the holiday season presents some wonderful opportunities to represent your company and build your personal brand. It also presents some significant challenges for many in the business world who struggle when it comes to personal interaction. Admittedly, engaging in small talk and socializing with people you may not know can seem daunting, but with a little practice and some forethought it’s really not so hard.

To make the most of this year’s holiday social-calendar opportunities, check your perspective, take a few deep breaths, and put these small talk and socializing tips into action.

 

Master The Art of Small Talk

One of the more common misgivings about social interaction stems from a fear or apprehension of approaching people you don’t know and initiating conversation. A quick lesson on mastering the art of small talk will give you all the tools you need to face this particular fear and knock apprehension out of the ballpark.

The dictionary defines small talk as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.”  Our suggestion, take it for what it is and run with it. We’re not talking about recreating the Great Debate! We’re talking about building and maintaining those all important business relationships with your words, actions and appearance. So, when it comes to initiating or making “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial mattes,” let’s start with the obvious.

Make the effort to become more familiar with what’s happening in the world around you (apart from politics!). Read a summary of the latest New York Times Bestseller. Learn the name of the week’s top grossing movie. Check the internet to see how your state’s sports team did last weekend. Nothing in depth is required. You’re just trying to start a conversation or keep one going. Let’s be honest, talking about the weather will only get you so far in polite conversation before people’s attention wanders or you find yourselves beating that proverbial dead horse.

Cultivating a curiosity about the world around you will give you an amazing array of topics you can use to start, continue, or redirect a conversation. Take this approach and you’ll never be at a loss for small talk material. Get good at small talk and you’ll begin to develop a reputation for being comfortable with people and someone who is easy to talk to in a social setting. Not a bad reputation to have in business!

Don’t know much about your host? Do some research; ask around about their interests. If the host is a business or client read up about them – have they recently been recognized for any awards or innovations? No time to prepare ahead of the event…no problem. Take your cues from other guests, the décor, the fabulous food (even if it’s not!). Be an engaged listener by commenting or asking questions. These are all great ways to keep the conversation going and to discover additional topics to bring up if the conversation starts to lag.

 

It’s So Nice To Meet You

 One of the most embarrassing and potentially stressing aspects for many people when it comes to socializing is the self-introduction. Approaching, meeting, and talking to strangers are all common occurrences seemingly designed to strike fear in the heart of any socially trepidatious individual. But keep in mind, most all social business events are structured as meet and greets so attendees are expecting to have people introduce themselves. Half the battle is already won! Make your approach with confidence. Look at the person you intend to approach – whether they are alone or in a group – smile and nod, and if necessary, wait for a break in the conversation, then say hello. Extend your hand, say your name slowly and clearly, listening carefully as the person gives you their name in return. Done! You are now ready to amaze and impress with your seemingly endless array of small talk topics.

Another tough moment at any business social event is the inevitable “I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name” situation. What do you do when you can’t remember a person’s name and you need to make an introduction or when they remember you and you don’t remember them? One way to handle the situation is to face it head-on by asking the person for their name. Most people are not offended by this and are willing to forgive and forget especially when the admission is accompanied by an apology.  If you’re really worried about it you could prearrange a signal to use with members of your staff or team, significant other or friend, to indicate you don’t remember a name and need their help (e.g. touching your chin or ear). If nothing else, simply turn to the person next to you, gesture to the new comer and ask, “Have you two met?” Hopefully that person picks up the clue and does a self-introduction.

Mastering the art of small talk and getting comfortable with socializing in a business setting is just one of the ways you can differentiate yourself from the competition. Check your perspective this holiday season and use your busy holiday calendar to cultivate a reputation as someone who excels at building and maintaining relationships.

 

A Few Small Talk and Socializing Tips:

 

Look For Clues.

No time to research your host ahead of time – no worries. When you arrive, check out items in bookcases, pictures on the wall, and books on a coffee table for clues about your hosts interests, hobbies or travels. Use these clues to then start or redirect a conversation.

 

Ask For Opinions.

In business social settings it’s always best not to dominate the conversation. You risk coming across as boorish or worse yet a know-it-all.  If you’re utilizing your research or worldly knowledge to inspire conversation don’t simply tell people what you think, ask others for their opinion: People love to be asked what they think. The point of small talk is to initiate conversation not monopolize it. Getting people to talk about their opinions is also a great way to move the conversation forward.

 

Be An Engaged Listener.

Make sure you focus on the person or group you’ve joined. Ask questions and respond with comments of your own. Keep eye contact – not the scary stalker kind – and stop yourself from looking all over the room or catching the eye of everyone walking by. Not engaging or being distracted gives the impress you are just ‘biding your time’ until you spot a better situation or someone more important to talk with. Make a more favorable impression by staying focused and letting the people you are with know they are important and worth your time.

 

Next week…Politely disengaging.

 

© SAFFIRE LEGAL/EP INSTITUTE 2016

Photo credit: © JMcQueen all rights reserved

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