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5 Small Talk Strategies to Build Business Relationships

Categories: Building Relationships

At a recent business conference, I had the good fortune to meet many speakers whom I’d admired for a long time. There was one woman in particular that I was eager to chat with -- I’d read two of her books, followed her blog and was fascinated by her career and accomplishments.

A mutual friend made an introduction in between workshops.

Within seconds, we were chatting about our respective client experiences in the healthcare and life sciences industries. Except, within moments I noticed something odd. I wasn’t chatting at all.

I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

This woman took eye contact to new heights, with a laser focus that made me uncomfortable. I took an involuntary step back. She took a step forward, and leaned in even closer.

My part of the “conversation” was limited to nodding, smiling, and saying “uh huh” or “how interesting.” I began searching for a way to get away from her.

How awkward. How disappointing. How opposite to what I would have expected.

A wonderful Zig Zigler quote came to mind: "Egomania is a strange disease, it makes everyone sick except the person who has it."

There’s a huge difference between promoting yourself – which I firmly advocate – and monopolizing a business conversation, talking on and on about your accomplishments, which shows you have no interest in the other party at all.

Building healthy business relationships is vital for career growth. Here are five small talk strategies to get that new business relationship started:

  1. 1. Ask the other person questions about his/her career and listen to the answer. Be present and engaged in the conversation. Don’t look at your watch, and put your smart phone on vibrate.
  2. 2. Keep an appropriate physical distance. Use the handshake model – stand about 3 feet away. This is a good distance to maintain when you engage in small talk with someone you’ve just met.
  3. 3. Watch the other person’s reactions as you speak. Is he/she fidgeting, looking around the room, or glazing over? It might be time to end your impromptu chat, exchange pleasantries and move on to someone else. Your listener clearly isn't listening.
  4. 4. Remember, a networking conversation is not a presentation. It takes two to have a genuine business conversation. You are not trying to do a “data dump” and share as much information about yourself as possible. It’s great to speak about your business with enthusiasm. But watch that that enthusiasm doesn’t spill over into babbling. Not sure if you babble? Ask a coworker.
  5. 5. Follow up! Send the person a quick e-mail, or LinkedIn invitation or note, when you’re back in the office. Let him or her know that you appreciated your conversation, answer any questions you may have discussed, and/or send any articles of interest that you’d cited or believe the person would appreciate.

Do you have more small talk strategies that work for you? I’d love to hear from you in our new, open LinkedIn group “BRODY: Your Competitive Advantage.” You also can find more development articles of interest there and post any workplace-related questions for our team of expert facilitators.

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