As a woman from the midwest, I consider myself a straight-shooter. I value honesty and candor. If you have bad news, pull the band-aid off quickly. If you need something from me, cut to the chase. Direct conversation is a direct line to earning my respect.
So, it makes sense that idle chit chat isn’t in my wheelhouse. Pandering conversation can get irritating, especially when it’s coated with artificial sweeteners.
Even the phrase “chit chat” feels like a fly landing in your ear.
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy casual conversation. Meeting someone new and learning about them is a great part of my life. Everyone has an interesting story and I enjoy being present with them to learn about it.
Chit chat is what happens in meetings. Right after everyone takes their seats and right before the agenda items are listed, there’s chit chat. “Hey Bob, how was the vacation?” “Nice necklace Suzy. Where did you get it?”
Chit chat is what happens when people need to fill the silence with chatter. That, my friends, gets annoying.
But this chit-chat-hating businesswoman has been evangelized. My eyes are now open to the uses of chit chat. I now see the function that it serves, if you know how to utilize it. Chit chat is the perfect time to detect the conversation beneath the conversation.
When walking into a meeting, everyone is bringing in their own baggage. One person could be rushing from meeting to meeting, and when she walks into yours, she’s flustered, stressed, and still processing what happened 5 minutes ago in the last meeting. Another person could have just gotten an email alerting him to the fact that he’s going to have to stay in the office 2 hours longer than he planned and is figuring out when he can call his wife to let her know to eat dinner without him.
While everyone gets settled and as their consciousness slowly catches up to being in the present moment, this is your opportunity to gauge the temperature of the room. Who is stressed? Can you put them at ease with a genuine compliment or sign of appreciation? Who is on your side? Who isn’t? Who has positive energy that you can amplify?
While everyone else is having half-hearted chatter, you can turn up the dial on your observational skills to read what’s not being said.
Typically, in any group, there are key players – decision makers who can make or break your ideas. Once you know who these people are, you can use the chit chat time to pull out the handy-dandy trusted rapport building technique: mirroring.
While the conversation ekes along, focus part of your energy on subtly matching the body language or posture of your decision maker. See if you can match their speaking pace and volume. If you know about V/A/K (I’ll write about it soon, I promise), incorporate their preferred representational system into your speech. These are all simple and subtle ways to trigger the rapport response in the other person’s subconscious.
When ever I meeting with one of my private clients, there is always a few minutes of catching up – also known as, chit chat. I don’t mind the chit chat because part of my energy is focused on re-establishing the rapport with my client.
I look for signals that we are in rapport and once I’ve determined that we are, I move the conversation towards the coaching side of things.
This process also helps me when I actually have to give them coaching advice. Because I’ve re-calibrated my communication to their style, I know how to frame the advice I’m giving them. They, in turn, are more receptive to the coaching.
Our values and beliefs dictate our behavior. They also play a recurring guest role in our language. An observant communicator will make a mental note of these values and tailor their message to them.
Let’s say that during the chit chat your decision maker mentions that she just discovered a new app that saves her time at the airport. She later utters the cliqué, “time is money.” And, she brags to her colleague that she turned in a project a week ahead of schedule. This woman values her time.
If I were in that meeting and picked up on these cues, I would start mentally editing my sales pitch. I would add words like brief and efficient. I wouldn’t let the presentation lag. I would end things on time. And, if I got the deal, I would be sure to turn in all assignments ahead of the deadline.
People have a wide range of values. Just perk up your ears and they will give you clues as to what they value most. Here are just a few examples:
The list could go on and on. It’s your job to have on your linguistic decoder ring and adjust accordingly.
Do you enjoy chit chat? Do you find it annoying? Have you had any revelations from chit chat? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.