Connecting at work is easier for some and a challenge for others. It all starts with the first impression and how we either seize the opportunity to engage or not. Our countenance and presence make us approachable or not. There are external ques and signals we emit that others pick up such as how fast we walk, our facial expression and if we make eye contact.
Next comes small talk, the brief, informal exchanges that precede and follow meetings can play a valuable role in your professional relationships. Most greetings and salutations take the form of ritual communication. They are heavily influenced by the setting, the status of the parties involved, what brought the parties together, their culture and the communication tends to be formulaic.
These encounters are great opportunities to strengthen the bonds and sense of belonging critical to healthy teams. The challenge is most of these exchanges are fleeting and lost on banal topics such as the weather or traffic or interest subjects such as sports, alma mater, etc…which will work with some and not others and finally. “HOT” topics of politics and religion which is a ticking time bomb that can disrupt a sense of safety which is the first required level of connection.
The best subject to talk that is meaningful to nearly everyone is family. Most people find it gratifying to talk about their family. Simply asking how the family is may seem to general, it is better to ask about their spouses career, the kids play, the family vacation, some specific topic to get them to genuinely express their thoughts.
The next best subject is their interests and hobbies. A casual question about “How did you spend your Saturday morning?” will give you a window into their life. It is a safe place to take a conversation to a place where they spend their discretionary time. Their response will give you more fodder to delve deeper and make a connection that you can build upon over time.
I encourage you to take the lead in small talk as most people will tell you this informal ritual is not their favorite part of a meeting or day. You can also up your game by preparing to genuinely share something about yourself and your family or your personal interests as a lubricant to get others to share about themselves.
For those that want to get great at small talk and connections we have prepared a list of questions both personal and professional to help the conversation be meaningful and memorable. The questions you ask beyond the cursory hello, how are you and family and interest are pivotal in sending signals about your personal brand, what you stand for, what you think about and the gravity of your intellect and character. If you do not invest the time to be purposeful you are a wondering generality verses a meaningful intentional specific. People form opinions based on what you say and don’t say and more importantly how they feel about themselves during the exchange.
Like any skill you can develop your repertoire and delivery of small talk, follow on questions and authentic commentary of your personal interests and family life you will share. Putting people at ease by the questions you ask creates a container of safety and helps draw people to you. Growth is about awareness and choice. What will you choose to do with the informal exchanges that occur daily?