Like so many people, you might be tired of endless meetings. Your calendar seems filled with a vast array of meetings, leaving you little time to do your own work. You might be tempted to make meetings more efficient by just "getting down to business" and eliminating the "small talk" at the start. I might suggest that you rethink that strategy. Small talk serves a useful function. It helps us build relationships, create empathy and trust, and encourages us to seek to understand one another. Dan Bullock and Raul Sanchez recently summarized a key finding regarding the science of small talk in an article for Fast Company.
Still, small talk has the power to make or break a job prospect, a networking encounter, and an intercultural relationship. Going beyond utility conventions and intentionally noticing the semantics of a conversation can land a new business deal or networking opportunity. In the business world, expertly crafted small talk can be used as the icebreaker that leads to the next business pitch, a fail-safe to get relationships back on track, or even simply as agency for building rapport with partners before a negotiation.
You may wonder why you sometimes feel like you’ve known a person after only exchanging a few words. The familiarity has its roots in interpersonal synchronization, where speech rhythms, walking patterns, and even breathing match with those of others simply from our shared perceptions that we notice as we acquaint ourselves with each other.
Findings from Princeton University in the act of human communication and storytelling revealed a powerful phenomenon called “neural coupling,” where our brains essentially get in sync during the act of storytelling. Researchers monitored audience members and storytellers via MRI machines and found that their brain waves synchronize during a powerful story, revealing that stories are one of our most powerful transcultural ingredients for communication. Just think of a networking situation where you jump-start a conversation with phrases like “Have you ever . . .,”; “What if . . .”; and “Did you know that . . .”
Stories can be lightning rods that supercharge our conversations, actively “syncing up” our minds so that we’re not just sharing meaning with each other, but human experience itself.