Monday, August 1, 2011

Making small talk is not lying to the other person

I had a client at one point refuse my suggestions on small talk as it felt like lying to the other person; "I don't care about what interests them and it feels false to pretend I do." It made me re-evaluate my suggestion to clarify what small talk meant both for the interview and the workplace.

Before I get into the tip part though I will once again plug the need to connect with people interviewing you or that you work with. It makes hiring smoother and retention easier if the person knows that you see them as a human being. You do not have to suck up with pointless comments or pretend to be interested in something you do not like. Rather you just need to let them know, even once, that you see them beyond the facade we erect at work.

So when interviewing try to Google your interviewers and most certainly the company. Look for a 'human interest' angle that you like and can talk about. Be sure to bring it up. Say you do not know the name of the person you are interviewing with but you found out via Googlebating (or masterGoogling if you prefer) the company that they recently moved to the new office. Even though it is likely that the person you are speaking with is NT, office moves are still sources of stress and humor. Mention the move and let them talk about it for a while. You will find a sympathetic response in yourself that is a surrogate for empathy in that you likely hate that sort of disruption too. That will come across in the interview.

If you are working with people just keep an ear out for their interests and look for news items that tie into that interest and mention it. Certainly you will illicit some sort of response from them and again, choose something you can tolerate. I have had several conversations with plane owners even though I have never actually owned a plane or even have a pilot's license. In fact it was one of the first things that I spoke about with my future father-in-law (got a good review from him too).

Making small talk with co-workers and interviewers is an effort but does not have to be a lie (or painful). Just keep on the look out for something that interests you too. Read blog aggregators, news web sites or some of the Gawker family of sites for general things to speak about.

And keep the stuff non-controversial (i.e. no religion or politics ).

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