What’s the best part of being a success?
You never have to chitchat.
As a VIP, concentrating on high-level issues, no one expects you to deal with idle chatter from the hoi polloi. It’s a tradition as old as time. No one on the team would hazard a friendly, “How about this crazy weather?” to Svein Forkbeard, King of the Vikings, if they saw him in the elevator.
He was too high up the org chart to be bothered.
For everyone else, being a big shot when it comes to small talk can accelerate your rise up the org chart. Or so I was reminded by “How to Shine When You’re Put on the Spot,” a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Matt Abrahams.
When he talks about being put on the spot, Abrahams is focused on informal gatherings in which you find yourself facing “the daunting challenge of spontaneous communication.” And who doesn’t find themselves frozen when faced with difficult questions like, “How’s the family?” and “What did you do this weekend?”
The good news here is that “you don’t need to be extroverted or inherently charming” to make a name for yourself as a successful chitchatter. All you need are these five conversation strategies to make your co-workers see you as a sympathetic, empathetic people person, so you can rise up in the company and never have to interact with them again.
No. 1: “Avoid the Default Response”
A perfunctory response to a routine question will not get you into trouble; it also won’t get you into the C-suite. Suppose you run into the CEO in the parking lot The CEO asks, “How are you?” Do you say, “Good, thanks”? No, you do not! You use this chance encounter as “the opportunity to make a memorable comment,” such as “Did you know most people can’t lick their own elbows?”
Relevant? Possibly not. Memorable? Definitely.
No. 2: “Know That Less is More”
Once you start chatting, it’s difficult to know when you have gone on too long. You are such a fascinating creature that stopping yourself from yapping away until your listeners walk out or, worse, pass out requires discipline.
One career climber polished their seemingly spontaneous responses by “practicing with sample questions generated by an AI chatbot.”
This is certainly a high-tech way to refine your responses, but it is limited to the concerns of the bot. How useful are answers to questions like “What do you like best about being a Large Language Model?” or “How can we get HR to fire all these annoying humans and hire more chatbots?”
No. 3: “Dare to Be Dull”
No further advice needed here. You’ve got this down pat!
No. 4: “Listen as Well as You Talk”
“Space, pace and grace” is your mantra here. Rather than shut everyone down with a snap answer that makes no sense, give yourself space to hear what others are saying. Then shut everyone down with a snap answer that makes no sense.
The “pace” and “grace” parts mean you take time to “listen to your inner voice, which will guide you to communicating empathetically and making necessary adjustments as you go.” One warning: If you hear your inner voice saying, “This is really going well. Everyone is impressed by you and wants to hear you talk a lot more,” don’t believe it.
Your inner voice? It’s an idiot.
No. 5: “Organize Your Thoughts”
Putting structure into casual conversations “enhances comprehension, emotional engagement and retention.” One potential framework is the classic, “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” architecture, to which I would add, “And what makes you think anyone cares, anyway?”
If you want to be ready with a structured response for any casual question, build yourself a PowerPoint that lets you easily plug in relevant responses.
“Thank you for asking me (“Do I ever do any work around here, or do I just swan around, pretending to look busy?”) It is my personal belief that (“I should be able to get away with as much goofing off as I can,”) which shouldn’t be difficult since (“It’s none of your business, and if you persist in bugging me, I have collected a number of your emails, which would be quite embarrassing if they were to be leaked.”) In conclusion, (“Back off, if you know what’s good for you.”)
Follow these simple strategies and your reputation as an expert chitchatter on the rise will be ensured. And if management doesn’t believe it, they can go lick their elbows.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected]. To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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