Network Your Way Up by Growing in the Skill of Small Talk

As the world of work becomes increasingly competitive, evolving in unpredictable ways at great speed, we tend to double down on our CVs.

For some, that means earning a degree or pursuing higher education. For others, it could involve accruing real-world experiences. Yet another angle to explore would be mastering new skills through online courses or tutorials.

Yet the value of these things can be diluted. Disruptions might make experience or skills less relevant in favor of new ones. Even degrees might not hold as much sway when each year churns out highly qualified graduates in volume.

As far as making headway in your career goes, one thing holds: networking is vital to success.

This is true even for today’s freelancers or those pursuing passive revenue streams. To get started as a landlord, you build a relationship with your estate agent. You vet contractors and find tenants by word of mouth.

Nobody really succeeds on their own. So why are many people still bad at networking?

Problems in approach

If you feel that you aren’t good at networking, it’s probably not for lack of awareness. After all, social media is everywhere, and it offers a litany of examples of how connections can create opportunities.

In search of better prospects, the typical person dutifully arms themselves with a list of questions to ask at a networking event. They anticipate making inquiries about responsibilities and requirements, challenges and strategies, or what an average day on the job looks like.

Adopt this approach, and you’ll often come away disappointed with the results.

It’s not that we ask the wrong questions, but we’re focusing on the wrong things. The last thing you want to do is transform the networking process into something more akin to an interview or interrogation.

Growing in skill

Some people seem to be inherently good at networking. They glide into conversations with strangers, and both parties instantly seem to be at ease with one another. From there, everything seems to flow naturally.

In this regard, networking is like any other skill. We’re all born with a certain amount of natural ability. This innate level of proficiency varies with each individual. But since it’s a skill, it can be improved.

If you’re not good at something, your early efforts will likely meet with failure, and that’s not pleasant. Repeated failure in anything makes us associate negative feelings with that activity.

It’s hardly surprising that many of us hate networking. Just like others feel an aversion to sports, art, or singing in public, we dread the outcome and condemn ourselves with a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Getting better at networking requires you to embrace a growth mindset. This is a fundamental change. You truly have to believe that you can learn and grow from failure, and each time you try to network, attempt different things.

Not skipping steps


There’s another basic mistake many people commit when they fire away with networking questions: too often, they’re skipping an essential step.

That missing link is small talk.

Focusing on your resume, skills, and experiences is good. But you can’t have blinders on. This leads to a self-centered mentality, which is a conversation-killer in any setting.

No one likes to converse with someone who can only talk about themselves. Yet an even bigger problem is being unable to relate to others because you don’t know how to relate to them.

People often want to skip the preliminaries and go straight to discussing the big topics. That doesn’t happen outside of a controlled setting, such as an interview. You only feel comfortable in conversation after warming up to someone.

It may seem superficial, but getting better at small talk is really going to help your interactions flow more smoothly. Only after establishing that rapport with another person can you steer the conversation towards topics of interest and expect in-depth, helpful replies.

Improving your conversations

In general, we could all use some intentional improvements in our conversational skills. But when it comes to small talk and networking, you can try simple yet effective methods to succeed.

The ARE method initiates small talk by anchoring the conversation in a shared observation, perhaps something you’re both witnessing at the moment. Then, you reveal something personal related to this anchor and encourage the other person to reciprocate.

This is frequently accompanied by another tactic: the use of open-ended questions. By making a point of doing this, you avoid exchanges that terminate in a yes or no. It keeps the back-and-forth of a pleasant conversation going.

Finally, always be attentive and actively listen to what the other person is saying, even in the early stages of a conversation.

This way, you can chain conversations up towards the topics that you’ve prepared ahead of time. And the entire interaction will be pleasant, perhaps even memorable, for all involved. Sometimes, that can be just as important as anything you’ve learned.

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