Because my job requires frequent travel with clients and employees, there are many times when discussions turn to events unrelated to the work we are performing. In addition, when I am a guest speaker at attorneys’ or insurance companies’ seminars, there are often social events included in the meeting that are part of doing business. On these, and other, work related occasions, it is essential to perfect the art of “chit chat,” that is, talking about things that are purely social in nature and that have no relevance to any work related function. As an introvert who prefers silence or personal introspection over idle banter, it has been difficult for me to engage in the social types of conversations with clients and employees I know, based on decades of research, are crucial to the formation of bonds that provide a foundation for relationships. I have had to channel my innate curiosity about human nature into these “forced” social encounters so that, while waiting for a flight, driving long distances late at night, having dinner with clients whom I have never met, etc. I can appear friendly and engaged. I have found the best approach in making chit chat, at least for me, is asking the person(s) with whom I am spending time away from home questions about themselves, their family, their hobbies, etc. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and, once their favorite subject is broached, they will dominate most of the available time discussing their life. It is important not to appear too inquisitive, for fear someone will perceive the questions as overly personal, but a little interest in other people’s lives usually goes a long way in filling time that would otherwise consist of dreadful silence. I have been fortunate in traveling with people who I have found mostly compatible and as a result, finding things to talk about has been less difficult than I originally imagined. The important point here is to have something to say that fits the person you are with as well as the situation in which you find yourself.
I share with Melissa the introversion trait which makes chit chat difficult to initiate. And, some situations are more difficult than others, but yet, it is so much a part of business and life, that it is important to understand this fact. In understanding it, one must learn what is or is not acceptable conversation and try to have something appropriate to say when approached. This includes the “elevator speech” for business-social events, as well as the curiosity, natural or nurtured, to talk with co workers, colleagues, or strangers with whom you find yourself. We have had employees who, without careful consideration of the situation, have provided inappropriate, trite, responses to clients who have sought to engage them in conversation. Those caused us to cringe at the moment but became teaching experiences later. The context and status differences between and among those in such conversations are important to remember. And, it is further important to avoid controversial or esoteric discussions, unless you know the other party well. All of this points out that “making chit chat” is more involved that it may seem. It sounds simple, but it is not and clearly, some people are better at it than others. For some, the reminder that it is better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.