I wish I'd got a pound for every time I've heard that phrase. It's a common reason given by people who dislike networking because they see the banality of talking about nothing ...
I had two different versions of "I don't do small talk" from clients last week and both actually like small talk, when the subject interests them. I'll leave out their names to avoid embarrassment.
Visiting a hardware store in the nearby town he was asked by the owner if he was the Englishman who had bought the house in XXXX. When he replied yes, he was invited into the back room to chew the fat with the guys about engineering, doing up houses and the local area. What he liked was the sense of welcome into the community.
In other words, they were all networking and using small talk to discover whether they liked each other through finding common ground.
The other was a participant who was on a workshop I was running and she asserted that she wasn't interested in other people so didn't network. She then spent the tea break asking the other participants all about themselves, not with any business intention, but simply out of interest.
Small talk may be a light, inconsequential conversation, but it has a real purpose. Anthropologists call it 'social grooming' which is the human equivalent of chimpanzees picking nits off each other!
There is increasing evidence that this conversational social grooming releases the hormone oxytocin, which is responsible for basic bonding behaviours. For instance, oxytocin is what makes two birds co-operate in building a nest or stops a mother bear from abandoning her cub.
In sociable animals and in humans, oxytocin plays a key role in maintaining relationships beyond family members and enable our brains to keep track of social interactions with multiple individuals over extended periods of time.
Even without the science and hormones, your own experience shows you that small talk serves a purpose in deciding who you choose to trust and have within your social network.
Small talk helps you find out about the other person, what you have in common and equally important it shows you how they express themselves. Then you can make a judgement on whether you want to take the relationship further.
The Word Cloud in the image for this blog post is some of the range of topics I have had light conversations about over the last week. How did we get started on the topic? Often one subject grows out of another as the conversation flows and sometimes the topic was introduced by me and sometimes by others.
In amongst this are topics where I know a lot about the subject and have strong opinions on and others where I don't, but the ones I remember are those that interest me in some way.
Some of this leads to useful information about others hobbies and interests that I can use in building relationships. I can put people in touch with others who share the same interests or send them information on events, special deals or just books and articles on that subject, all of which helps build the bond between us.
However, I suspect that largely, both of us have forgotten the content of what we actually said. What we are left with is a deeper sense of whether we liked each other, whether we want to meet again and if we want to cooperate with each other.
My tip for the week: At your next networking or social event, talk to others about something that interests you. Keep it light and avoid going into a monologue by asking the other person's opinion; the objective is to have a conversation.
At least you'll get an interesting difference of opinion. Maybe you'll give your acquaintance a great big boost of co-operative hormones, then who knows where your conversation and relationship will go next?
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