Two people opposite each other, each with a coffee cup in hand. The image only shows their arms and the cups.

Why Small Talk in Business Relationships Matters

For some of us, business small talk gets a bad rap. We associate it with feeling a little awkward, maybe even cheesy, and many of us would prefer to get into the big stuff as soon as we can.

There are a few reasons why we might want to skip out on chitchat:

  • We’re busy, with very limited time for a conversation, so we feel like we need to make every moment as focused as possible.
  • We’re a little nervous. When there’s something we dread, our inclination is often to “get it over and done with”, so that the negative emotion we feel is behind us and we can move on with our day.
  • We’re not in the habit. We’re not sure where to begin and want to avoid cliches in an important meeting, so it can leave us feeling unsure of ourselves.
  • We appreciate its value in the day-to-day, but we don’t see the value of small talk in a business sense.

So Why Does Small Talk in Business Matter?

Small talk matters because rapport is vital in business relationships.

Even after recent shifts in business culture towards human connection and corporations doing good, we still distrust businesspeople that we simply don’t know very well.

One trope that we’ve all felt at some stage is that we’re being fed a script, rather than speaking to a human one-on-one. Clunky, awkward pitches and talking points are still rife and we are all sensitive to communication that feels like we are part of a conveyor belt.

Trust really is everything: research by Salesforce found that nearly 80% of buyers felt it was important to speak to a salesperson “who is a trusted advisor – not just a sales rep.” Sales reps read scripts; trusted advisors have two-way conversations.

That same research found “51% of sales leaders focus on increasing customer retention through deeper relationships.” How do deeper relationships start… in any context? Yes, it’s through gentle chitchat that builds up into a more personal connection.
While the highest customer lifetime values in the world are generated by dentists, pediatricians, and other doctors, it’s still possible to build long-lasting relationships by paying attention to the pillars of that loyalty: care, honesty, and trust. Some pros have even found that salespeople who take the longest calls significantly outperform their coworkers.

Like anything, things get much easier when we go in with the right mindset. Now we should have you convinced of the huge potential of small talk, so here’s how to connect with contacts in any business relationship.

A group of three young adults at a table seated outside. The table has has notepads, coffees and a laptop on it. The three are chatting and laughing.

Find Common Ground

The old adage is true: we like people who are like us. We’re probably much more used to spending time with people who are similar to us than we realize. In fact, most of us gravitate towards friends, partners, and even workspaces that reflect ourselves.

While we might find ourselves surrounded by similar folks when we’re making the decisions, in business we find ourselves crossing paths with all kinds of people. Some will have family, educational, or personal histories that echo our own, but others may not and we will still need to find a way to connect. That could be a shared former hometown or equally rough mornings. Pay attention and you’ll find it.

Keep It As Personalized as Possible

This could mean drawing on anything you find on their LinkedIn, from a previous email, or else related to anything you know about them – we’ve heard of folks who ended up having long and happy chats because of a salesperson commenting on their email footer. Otherwise, is likely to be when you run with something your conversation partner or customer has volunteered themselves.

Consider Making Notes

Notes aren’t just for studies, and they’re not just for meetings. When we pay attention to a conversation, we find the many nuggets that will make future contact shine. Notes can not only build on making things personal, as above, but they also keep you fresh and focused ahead of any future call or meeting. Whether it’s a customer’s first call or the hundredth, notes make small talk flow.

Birds eye view of a woman taking notes on her laptop. Next to her is a notepad and pen, a coffee, and a closed book.

Relax!

There are two sides to this one! First up: we can always tell when someone’s mind is on their objective and not on the conversation at hand. Things feel off-beat, awkward, and impersonal. Remembering we are just having a chat shifts the dynamic to enable proper connection.

Next, if you are really stuck then do not overcomplicate things. If you don’t feel like you have anything personal to start with, keep it simple and ask a question we all like to answer: how has your day been so far? Often, customers or contacts have not been asked that question all day, and letting them chat or vent can be a great way to establish rapport.

Takeaways:

  • Small talk is the first step in creating trust within any kind of relationship
  • We gravitate toward people who are similar to us, so finding things we share with others can create a bond
  • Personalize your conversation wherever you can
  • Notes can help you circle back to great insights
  • Keep it simple: if all else fails, relax and let them open up about their day

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