Are you one of those people who can’t wait to get to a party so you can meet all kinds of new people and talk away the night? Do you relish networking events because you delight in the challenge of speaking to as many people as possible? If so, then this not for you.
If on the contrary, small talk and conversations with strangers in general make you want to dive as quickly as you can back under the covers, then carry on.
Open the door for conversation
If you’re not big on small talk, but you’re at a party or networking event, questions are a fairly painless way to ease into a conversation. If you can get someone talking then chances are you’ll eventually find something you can join in with. However, not all questions are created equally. Depending on how you phrase the question you could hear an extended detailed answer or it could come in the form of a single word.
Open-ended vs. closed-ended
Let’s say for example you know the person you’re talking to was at an interesting lecture the day before. You could ask the question in two general ways:
Did you have a good time last night?
How was last night?
The first version is a closed-ended question, meaning there’s a good possibility you’ll get a yes or no answer. “Yes, I had a good time.”
“How was last night?” Is an open-ended question, meaning it opens the door for further elaboration. “Last night was really interesting. The speaker had a lot to say about this that and the other. I would recommend her lectures to anyone.”
Go through the open door
From here you have options to continue the conversation. You could talk about this, that or the other or other lectures by that speaker or another.
Do you think this is a good idea?
Wait, better question: What do you think of this idea?
Ever notice that some people seem to have a knack for getting the best out of those around them, while others seem to go from creating misunderstanding to snafu to lost opportunity? The difference might be as simple as a lack of strong communication skills.
Start with the little things
You might think small talk is a waste of time, but it’s part of day-to-day socializing. It’s the beginning of getting to know people. Through those small daily interactions you’ll find out that Jen’s husband has gone back to school, you’ll know when it’s time to encourage Sanjar in his quest to run his first marathon.
What you learn through that small talk will help you form relationships and bonds with the people you work with. Not only are you getting to know them better, you’re building an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie.
Listen with your ears and your eyes
Pay attention to the body language of the person you’re speaking to. Are they engaged with what you’re saying or are they distracted?
If you don’t have their full attention, your communications are not hitting the mark. Are your instructions unclear? Is there something going on with them that needs to be addressed? Is there a problem with what you’re asking them to do? You cannot guess the answers to these questions, so ask.
Sometimes if you’re busy it might be tempting to be distracted by a screen or a piece of paper in front of you while giving instructions to someone. That’s a shortcut to giving the same instructions again later. If you want someone to understand what you’re saying you need to give them your full attention. If you expect them to respect you then start by respecting their time and presence.
Ultimately you want to get things done. That shouldn’t mean they have to get done in exactly the way you suggested if there’s a better way. You need to make sure that people understand you want them to come to you with questions and suggestions. Communication is a two way street. Being heard and listening are equally important.
With strong communication skills you’ll be able to ensure things get things done right, the first time!