Mastering the art of small talk can be a challenge even for the most confident people. Being able to converse with ease can be a powerful career tool, helping you meet new people in the industry and create a stronger network and build rapport with colleagues. If the thought of being stuck in a room full of strangers gives you sweaty palms, you needn't worry. According to a recent Inc. article, successful communicators call on five underrated skills to ease the pressure. Read on to learn how to small talk like a pro!
Nerves can make us want to jump into a conversation when we have something to share or chatter on without end. Learning to stay quiet and let people speak without interruption shows you value their opinion. Entrepreneur Andrew Thomas says he uses the three-second rule to ensure he talks in turn. "The best hack for this is to bite your tongue (gently) and to wait three seconds after the person is done before you start speaking," he tells Inc. "Three seconds is enough time to make sure they aren't just pausing after a sentence."
Meeting new people at work tends to involve the same questions. What do you do? How long have you been working their for? Asking profession-based questions limits our ability to connect with people. It confines the relationship to the workplace and subtly says that you're more interested in their career status than who they are. Instead, Thomas says to tap into other areas of interest. Ask, What have you been passionate about lately? Or, What have you been up to outside the office? It'll help you forge a personal bond that goes well beyond a predictable office chat.
Asking a well-considered question demonstrates that you're really in tune with what the other person is saying, and want to engage. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, says, "Nothing is more flattering than rapt attention." To phrase a great question that will open a two-way conversation, focus on "what" and "how" questions rather than questions that start with "did" and "do." They're more open-ended and are likely to spark a deeper discussion.
When we're eager to impress someone, it can be easy to want to offer career advice. You might feel like you're doing the other person a favor, but offering unsolicited advice can be a risk. Thomas says he often encounters this issue when meeting other business owners. After hearing about a new idea, his immediate reaction is to jump in to add his own experience and advice. After a few sticky situations, he now gauges the other person's attitude first. Tell them that you're really interested in what they do, and you've experienced some similar challenges. Let them know that if that's of interest, you're happy to share your lessons.
If you can see that the person you're chatting to struggles with small talk, show compassion. According to Psychology Today, up to 50% of Americans are introverts who naturally shy away from awkward social situations. If you notice a lull in conversation, pay it forward and ease the pressure. It'll start a chain reaction, and who knows, maybe one day someone will do the same for you.
To read more about what the conversation skills of successful people, head over to Inc.
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This post was originally published on February 11, 2016, and has since been updated.