The Power of Small Talk

Apr 28, 2019 14:53 · 503 words · 3 minute read conscious leadership culture relationships

The Power of Small Talk

Or, how I learned to stop dreading chit chat and appreciate the context

A few months into my experience with conscious leadership I became aware of my tendency to spout out content without context. Before now, if you asked me “Hey Michael, what have you been up to this month?” I would have rattled off a series of content bullets:

  • I started a new job
  • I attended Google Next
  • I started playing hockey again
  • Etc…

I would have left off the context that I felt a lot of creative energy around my new job that is allowing me to show up at work more authentically. I felt fear and imposter syndrome while participating in a leaders subset of the Next conference. I felt tremendous joy around committing time to playing hockey with my neighbor.

Perhaps a more extreme example would be an individual sharing “I spent the weekend catching up on sleep” vs. “I’m going through a hard time dealing with a recent loss. I feel a lot of sadness and it’s making me tired so I spent the weekend catching up on sleep.” This changes the reception of the content dramatically. The story around this content may go from “wow, they sleep a lot and must be lazy” to “I had no idea about the loss they experienced and understand why they haven’t wanted to hang out on the weekend”.

This is all to say, the deeper the context around content the higher the likelihood for meaningful connection.

I found conscious leadership out of a desire to make more authentic and meaningful connections. At networking events I regularly avoided small talk as the story I told myself was that it wasn’t meaningful and did not exhibit authenticity. However, after several months of participating in a leadership forum I found a lack of metadata about someone led to quite a bit of missing context. A few rounds of simple small talk later and I filled in that metadata, giving me more context to leverage when making authentic connection.

Looking for a way to fill in this metadata with your team? Try this exercise:

Step Into the Room, an exercise

Have each member of your team make a list of 2-3 questions they want to know about everyone else. Set the boundaries of how intimate the questions should be as appropriate for your setting.

Form a circle with the group and have anyone who answers affirmatively to a certain question take one step forward (stepping into the room), pause, then step back.

Common questions for example:

  • Step into the room if you have children
  • Step into the room if you like to ski
  • Step into the room if you’ve traveled outside of the country

I’ve learned to appreciate the power of small talk. If even the slightest piece of metadata about a person can give me more context to the content they share with me, I want it.

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