CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Banking and Finance - The value of small talk as a powerful empathy tool

Banking and Finance

The value of small talk as a powerful empathy tool

Vanessa Vershaw

We are living in an era in a revolution of human relationships where technology has pushed us further apart in life and at work. To solve for an uncertain future, it’s become mission critical for leaders to build empathy as a non-negotiable skill and work more closely with others to create the world we want to live in.

A sure-fire way to boost up your empathy muscle is to learn the art of small talk. The problem is we are not taking advantage of its benefits and we are in serious need of a change in perspective if we are to learn to embrace it. It’s like Groundhog Day every time – ask any leader how they feel about going to a networking event and you will more likely get a dramatic response – from eyes widening in their sockets, to heads rolling back and agonised groans. When you delve deeper into why, it’s usually attributed to the prospect of engaging in small talk that triggers such a painful reaction. The evidence on this is clear.

Feeling obliged to engage in seemingly trivial and superficial discussions with people at external functions or, in the office with their employees is an experience most leaders would rather avoid with a whopping 71% of people preferring to sit in silence than make small talk with others. And it’s not limited to introverts, extroverts don’t like it either with the small-talk topics people dread the most relating to sports and current events as well as questions around work, marriage and the weather.

Regardless of whether you enjoy it or not, small talk is an underutilised power tool leaders need to fire up to build more empathy with others at work. And leaning into the opportunity is mandatory if you are serious about cultivating more meaningful relationships with others at scale. These skills also accelerate your ability to connect and create and more engaged workplace for the long-term. What are some of the other benefits supercharging your small talk skills brings?

  • It decreases tension and anxiety – with the increased spikes of anxiety that often accompany meeting someone for the first time or leading others through a potentially uncertain scenario, cultivating your skills to engage in casual banter can not only break the ice but help ease into tougher conversations down the track.
  • It shows genuine curiosity about others and helps you to be ‘seen’ – taking the focus off yourself and asking questions about other people or discussing a subject that is non-work-related shows curiosity about others while giving insights into a range of broader interests. It also gives you a more human face by accelerating feelings of trust via the sharing of common interests.
  • It’s a bridge to more powerful connections at networking events – it’s a healthier ‘social lubricant’ than other methods. It also helps to builds trust and relationships across cultures. 
  • It boosts creativity and critical thinking – Chance encounters and spontaneous small talk can also spark enhanced collaboration and the potential for innovation.
  • It can make or break your career prospects – expertly crafted small talk can even help you secure your next job opportunity or be the dealmaker to winning your next business pitch.

No matter which way you slice it – building your ability to make casual small talk and boost empathic bonds makes business sense. The more leaders exercise their empathy muscles, they faster they will be able to respond to requests, scale to customer needs, collaborate more successfully and achieve far greater results than one person or team could achieve on their own.

Written by Vanessa Vershaw.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Banking and Finance - The value of small talk as a powerful empathy tool
Vanessa Vershaw
Vanessa Vershaw, author of Unreasonable Ambition: Renegade thinking for leaders to create impossible change is an award-winning speaker, facilitator and peak-performance coaching psychologist, entrepreneur, and transformation strategist. She is a trusted advisor to executives, key decision-makers, ASX-20 and Fortune 100 organisations globally.

Vanessa Vershaw is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.