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Small talk is not so small

small talk cartoonA client of mine is a professional woman from Japan who lives and works in Australia. She has a good job in a cultural organisation and she took me on as a coach because, as she said, “I have problem with my English.”

Well — she really doesn’t. She speaks carefully, grammatically, and is easy to understand After we discussed her situation at work and which areas she felt presented challenges, we realised that she had a harder time with small talk than she did with English grammar: She could easily perform the technical parts of her job, but the social aspects of it baffled her. “I am Japanese,” Yuna (not her name) said. “In my country, we are used to being very polite. We don’t like to talk about ourselves. When I am having lunch with my Australian colleagues, I do not always understand what I should say and what I should not say. And their humour.  . !” She laughed a little and shook her head. “I do not always understand,” she said candidly. “And I know it is important to get along with my colleagues. I am not sure what to do.”

Yuna is right. Success in the workplace is based so much more than on simply how well we do our jobs. People bond over shared humour, shared conversation, and most of it seemingly trivial: small talk.

What is small talk? Malinowski, a famous anthropologist, first wrote about it in 1923.1 Small talk, he said, is talk that binds us together. While the topics that constitute small talk may seem trivial, its real importance lies in its actual function: to forge bonds amongst us.

All work talk and no small talk can be detrimental to your career.

Brett Nelson of Forbes lists six reasons why small talk is very important.2 The first reason he gives: you never know where small talk will take you. It only takes a little investment of your time (and the possibility of a bruised ego) to connect with someone. You never know.

It also makes you feel better, and makes you smarter. (Nelson cites serious research supporting these points.)

Not only that: mastering small talk can make you more productive.

Social scientists from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, have been researching office communication worldwide. Their research has shown that small talk is crucial in forging fruitful ties with colleagues. Without those ties, work does not get done as effectively. 3

 

Yet the sad fact is that many people just hate small talk. They would rather get their teeth pulled than listen to an interchange on Australian footie.

Next time—some tips on how you can become a small talk expert.

I am a coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area who specialises in the communications needs of executives who are non-native speakers of English. I believe in helping people find their stories through great pronunciation, vocal work, storytelling, and active listening.

Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”

www.eloquentenglish.com

Citations:

1 Malinowski, B. “The problem of meaning in primitive languages,” in Ogden, C. & Richards, I., The Meaning of Meaning. London” Routledge, 1923.

2http://www.forbes.com/sites/brettnelson/2012/03/30/six-reasons-small-talk-is-very-important-and-how-to-get-better-at-it/#1fd187ab33c4

3http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/centres-and-institutes/language-in-the-workplace/docs/short-articles/ND-LWP-Small-talk-at-work.pdf

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Technical Skills Can Land You a Good Job, but it Won’t Help You Climb the Job Ladder: The Importance of Communication Skills at Work

According to an article in Business Insider, “Australian businesses are making do with mediocre senior executives because they can’t find enough with the right skills to motivate and get the best from staff.”1

 Everyone knows that Australia is hungry for people with IT, engineering, and meta-data skills. Everyone knows that these skills can (eventually) land you that first job.

But those skills won’t hoist you up the job ladder. For real advancement, you need to have seriously good people skills. It’s those soft skills that are needed to become a leader; as this Business Insider article states:

“Critical soft skills are missing or under-developed: empathy, problem solving and creativity, and fostering collaboration and innovation.”

The article cites a LinkedIn study that observed that 69% of human resources decision-makers in Australia and New Zealand say that it’s difficult to fill leadership positions.

That’s over two-thirds! And it’s not for want of available person-power: organisations receive hundreds of CVs daily from people stuffed with astonishing technical credentials.

Leaders are those who, through example, can inspire creativity and innovation. The leader who bellows “Just do it!” is becoming a thing of the past. Indeed, many studies have also shown that active listening is a skill needed by all leaders; Forbes published an article entitled “Six Ways Effective Listening Can Make you a Better Leader.”2

The Virgin Group founder Richard Branson agrees: “If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening,” he said.“Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.”3

Problem is, people are so busy checking out stuff on their cells phones that the crucial skill of INTERPERSONAL OBSERVATION is beginning to become a bit . . . obsolete. It’s hard to pay attention to your fellow humans when Pokemon beckons.

Don’t let this happen! If you can start honing your observational skills early, the better a colleague you’ll be. The better a leader you’ll be. And those skills can be used right at the beginning: at your job interview.

1http://www.businessinsider.com.au/australia-managers-dont-have-what-it-takes-to-be-leaders-2016-9
2http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/05/20/6-effective-ways-listening-can-make-you-a-better-leader/#177c3eabf6c0
3https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/235540

 

eloquent-english_small pngI am a communications coach with Eloquent English in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and I can help you find your story: in your presentation, business report, “elevator pitch”, CV, website or job interview.
www.eloquentenglish.com
Email: arashap@eloquentenglish.com

“It’s your story. Get it right.”