Making small talk meaningful 

As many of us come back to work after a long break, it’s important to remind ourselves that reconnecting with our colleagues is something we want to get right to set off on the right foot for the working year ahead. 

According to a recent study by Harvard, leaders looking to build rapport and connect in meaningful ways with their employees should ask particular questions.

One of the most common questions we are conditioned to ask each other of course is ”how are you”?

It rolls off the tongue and is the most obvious question to ask after you have greeted someone. BUT apparently it is a particularly vanilla type of question that is effectively pointless as it really elicits no meaningful response. When asked we just go through the motions; ‘good thanks’, ‘not too bad’. 

Here are what the researchers suggest are much more meaningful ways to reconnect; when breaking the ice and greeting someone, ask a more relevant question and then a series of at least one or two follow-up questions, depending on their answer.

The researchers analysed 300 online conversations and discovered that those people who were asked more relevant and meaningful follow-up questions actually found the person asking the question “more likeable”.

When people ask more meaningful questions, and continue asking more follow-up questions, they come across as more responsive – as better listeners, more compassionate and better at understanding them than those who don’t ask follow-up questions. In this way, a higher level of rapport is built in the conversation. 

So, start the new year off with asking your team members questions about their holidays and then some follow up questions to show you really care about them, to put you in their good books for the year ahead. Leaders who are most liked are naturally more likely to have motivated and engaged staff. 

Here are just a few tips on how to build rapport with your team and ask relevant and meaningful questions; 

Firstly, talk about something you did or enjoyed during the Christmas break. Give them an insight into your life first. This gives permission to talk about your personal life for a little while and might encourage them to share. 

Next, move to ask about your colleagues. Once you have shared some news, say “How about you? What did you enjoy most about your time off?” or “DId you do anything special?” Be sure to ask another question to show even more interest in them.

Perhaps while asking these follow-up questions you discover something you have in common. Maybe they tell you they went to the Sunshine Coast and you also went there last year.Ask if they visited some of the same places you did, and find some common ground.

This is meaningful small talk.

Once the conversation is flowing, you are much more able to segue into the business at hand and you will be primed to have a more positive meeting experience where their guards are down and everyone is more agreeable. 

Thirdly, make sure you are ”in the moment” while talking to your colleague. Body language is just as important or even more telling, than what you are actually saying.

No one wants to continue talking about themselves for long if the other person looks at the clock on the wall, or their watch, looks distracted or simply doesn’t look interested. You want to be genuine and interested and be present when you are listening to someone else, in order for a meaningful connection to be made.

Lastly, remember some of the information told to you and you can use this and build on it in future meetings. “How was your daughter’s graduation?”, “Did your parents get home safely after their flight?”.

This again, shows that you genuinely care and value your staff as individuals. A lot of this may seem obvious and come naturally to you. Luckily you can be one of the many people blessed with warmth, compassion and a genuine interest in other people. But there are just as many leaders who might be great at the technical side of things, but really struggle with the “people-ing” part of their role; building strong connections with their employees.

It doesn’t hurt to refresh and get a few tips after the new year break in some of the basics of people management. These tips are not too hard, but really have a big impact if done right. 
Wishing you all a successful year ahead. 

Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops in 2023? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!

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