Is Your Small Talk SMART?

Last week I attended the 3rd Hola Barcelona Cocktail, an event organized by Barcelona Global to welcome new international professionals arriving in Barcelona.

The purpose is to strengthen the relationship between Barcelonians by birth and Barcelonians by choice. It was lovely. I met wonderful people and conversations were great, which got me thinking: What makes small talk interesting? 

The topic is important, but not everything — you can have a pointless conversation about a great topic! The key is HOW we talk.

 

Make small talk SMART:

Supportive, Meaningful, Authentic, Refreshing, and Tasteful

 

But, is small talk really that important? After all, it’s just chit-chat, right? Or not? Is there a connection between small talk and other areas of our life? 

As a team effectiveness trainer, I often join teams for social events after the training. And for 4 years now I’ve been looking for a connection between the quality of small talk and people’s professional and personal fulfillment. I’ve found one:

 

Effective leaders and teams engage in smart small talk.

 

There’s a chance I’m seeing what I want to see, which begs the question: Is there scientific evidence to support my findings? I did some digging and there is.

For instance, Judith E. Glaser has coined the term “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ”, a person’s ability to connect with others through conversations and to jointly think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically.

Judith and the people at Benchmark Communications Inc. have studied the neurochemistry of conversations and shown that managers who “talk smart” are more successful than those who don’t.

So small talk is not just a chit-chat. Smart small talk does make a difference!

Here’s an experiment to spice up conversations at your next event:

  • Step One: Identify interesting angles to the conversation, relevant aspects or perspectives that are being overlooked.
  • Step Two: Ask a politely provocative question. This will accomplish two things: you’ll get people’s attention and you’ll spark openings for more meaningful dialogue.
  • Step Three: Pick a positive message. This is important because you want to contribute to the conversation in meaningful way.

Easy to remember: Angle + Question + Message. 

What do you do to keep the small talk smart?

 

The Trust Story

For Yoel Calek
Once upon a time, there was a man who valued trust very much. Before he decided to trust someone, he thoroughly made sure the person was worthy of trust. Only then, he felt he was ready to trust.
This meant he didn’t really trust anyone.

Except for one person: his special friend. It took him more than 10 years to do so. Before trusting him, he assessed the events that indicated his special friend was worthy of trust:

– Whenever I needed a favor, my friend would promptly assist.
– When I wanted to go for a drink, my friend was always ready.
– When I renovated my apartment, my friend booked all his weekends until it was done.
– Even when I considered a career change, my friend was there to carefully listen and give good advice.
– And when my mom died, my friend never once left my side.
For the first time the man felt he was ready to trust.

The next day, his special friend died.

For the remainder of his days, the man wondered if his friend had also trusted him. And when they met in the afterlife, the first thing the man did was ask his friend if he had been trustworthy, and if so, when had he decided to trust him.

Staring at the man with a look of confusion on his face, the special friend said:

Of course you’re my trusted friend! I decided to trust you the day we met. And ever since you’ve never betrayed my trust:

– Whenever you needed a favor, you trusted me to ask for help.
– When you wanted to go for a drink, it was me who you choose to confide your secrets.
– When you renovated your apartment, you allowed me and no other to enter the privacy of your home to rebuild it.
– Even that time — remember? — when you were considering a career change, again it was me who you turned to for advice.
– And when your mom passed, I was the only one you accepted at your side.

Your actions have taught me the meaning of trust!

The man stood there in shock, thinking:

You never fully know what people are capable of. By this token, you’ll never really know when you can trust someone.

 
On the other hand, if you give people a trust credit, and let them show their level of trustworthiness, you might be surprised at how much they feel you trust them, and so, respond to you at the same level.
The end.

Credits: I first heard of a credit for trust from my dear friend Florian Mueck.

How Odie Helps You Design Awesome Workshops!

The other day my friend and colleague Evgueni Talal, a specialist in customer satisfaction, asked for feedback on a workshop he’s preparing for the Toastmasters Fall District Conference in Lyon.

This got me thinking about what makes workshops awesome. I noticed four recurring elements that make workshops memorable experiences. Remember Odie from Garfield? These are the ODIE elements of awesome workshops.

  1. Original: How will the content be MINE?

When I began creating my conflict resolution seminars, I asked my friend and colleague, Florian Mueck, a public speaking and charismatic communication expert, for advice. Halfway through my first sentence, he said: “Stop! Don’t talk about someone else’s stuff. Present your own material.”

“Original” answers the question: What does the workshop offer that is uniquely mine that participants can get nowhere else? Evgueni has decided on something unique, to say the least. I won’t ruin the surprise, but be prepared to dance!!

This element avoids making the workshop merely a loudspeaker for other people’s material. Think about it:  Why would someone want go to a workshop to listen to you talk about someone else’s ideas?

But how can we be original when some of the material is not ours? Only you own the experience of the content. Share your personal experience and add value by making connections we haven’t heard of. What does networking have to do with dancing? I have no idea. Ask Evgueni!!

  1. Doable: How will lives change?

The high applicability of the workshop to real life situations is crucial. “Doable” answers the questions: What will participants be capable of DOING when the workshop is over? What are the specific outcomes they can count on?

The answer to these questions begins with: By the end of the workshop participants will be able to do 1… 2… and 3… Once you’ve got the answers to this, design your workshop to make it happen.

What we avoid here are merely reflexive workshops that make us think about cool stuff but don’t equip us with the tools to change specific situations in our lives.

  1. Interactive: How will they share the stage?

Workshops where the participants are the stars are always successful workshops. The interactive element answers the question: What exercises and activities will I include to involve the participants?

What we avoid here are passive workshops, where participants receive but do not give. Awesome workshops invite participants to share their knowledge and skills. This is what makes it a workshop instead of a lecture or a speech.

  1. Entertaining: How will they be fully engaged?

No one wants to deliver boring workshops. But some people do. Inspiring others with our enthusiasm is the name of the game. It’s the greatest challenge we face.

Here are a few tips to make workshops more entertaining: tell stories, provide a form-like-handout with questions and blank slots to be filled throughout the workshop, and use examples that relate directly to your participants’ struggles.

Thank you Evgueni, for inspiring the topic for this post! Thank you Odie, for making the elements unforgettable: Original, Doable, Interactive and Entertaining!

No One Plans To Be An Idiot

Ever been in a situation where someone is slightly rude but in a polite way? Isn’t it annoying? The other day, a friend told me a member of the cleaning staff at work made an unpleasant “humorous” remark about how her files were “organized”.

“This made me realize that most of his remarks”, my friend explained, “aren’t really nice. In fact, they’re more like criticism disguised as humor.” Then she added:

“If I tell him to mind his own business, there’s a good chance I’ll come across as rude. If I start a conversation, I risk making too much of an issue – after all, I’m not his boss. But if I do nothing, things will continue as they are. What should I do?”

When we’re impolite or inconsiderate,
it’s out of weakness not strength.

“Where do you think this comes from”, I asked, “and why do you think he feels the need to say this kind of thing? Do you think he has something better to say and purposely changes it just to be critical?”

I went on to suggest that before she decided what to do, she might want to consider that negativity, like bad habits, has an acute ability to sneak unnoticed into everyday remarks. Unawareness of this accounts for some impoliteness.

On the other hand, I argued that genuine jerks are rare creatures and that pure stupidity is not the standard. No one plans to be an idiot. And on good days, most of us are not.

We tend to fall into the trap of disrespect
when we feel hopeless not hopeful.

Unpleasant remarks happen when we don’t know any better or when we’re having a bad day. When someone disrespects or provokes you, chances are they did it out of weakness, not out of the abundance of their strength.

I’m not saying you give them a break, I’m saying: Look at it from this angle. It places you in a position of greater power to decide how to influence the outcome of the situation.

My friend decided she’d give it some thought before acting. And it occurred to me we’d love to hear your suggestions: “What do you think she could do?”

A Lesson From Tough Times

Think of someone who causes a sense of admiration when you recall the tough stuff they’ve been through and still managed to keep it together. How did they do it?

Lao Tzu said that the person who conquers others is strong while the person who conquers him/herself is mighty. How do you do that? Is there a formula?

It is precisely the extreme events of our life
that show us the essence of growth.

My personal experience of “intense” change includes moving unexpectedly at the age of 13 from Canada to a tiny Island of Portugal; losing quite a bit of weight (25 kg/55 lbs), and a career change.

More importantly, I’ve seen others go through much tougher events, such as an unjustly large jail sentence, the shaking news of a terminal illness, the untimely death of a son or the raw suicide of a sibling.

What does it take for us to change or overcome imposed change? In all these situations, I’ve noticed two defining forces that allow us to effect change or to overcome imposed change: pain and pleasure. I call them “The Curves of Change”.

The curves apply both to a desired change we wish to implement or an imposed change we wish to overcome.

Pleasure makes change desirable.

Pleasure is an attracting force: it pulls us to change. When faced with a situation to overcome, visualizing the pleasures that we will receive creates the desire to change.

For ex., when my family and I moved, the desire to make friends impelled me to quickly improve my Portuguese. When I lost weight, the idea of being slimmer made me want to exercise. When I changed career, the hope of more freedom fueled me to complete another master’s.

When we want to change, the first step is to visualize the pleasures that will be obtained as a result of changing. This provides the motivation to take action.

Pain makes change inevitable.

Pain is a repelling force: it pushes us to change. Pain is more effective than pleasure. Often there’s a taunting voice in our head: “It’s too hard. It’s not worth it. Not now.”

The efforts involved in changing can sway us to give up and settle for the way things are. The solution to reducing the pain involved in changing is to emphasize the pain involved in not changing!!

The solution to overcoming
great pain is a greater one. 

For ex., when we moved, feeling ridiculous when I talked helped me overcome the challenges of an unfamiliar language. As I lost weight, the idea of feeling tired again drove me to stick to months of strict dieting. When the uncertainties of a new career made me doubt, the thought of another month doing the same thing pushed me forward.

The second step is to reduce the pain involved in changing by emphasizing the pains of not changing. This eases the feeling of discomfort involved in changing and gives us the stamina to endure.

Have no doubt, the road of change turns to lessen pain and curves to enhance pleasure. Be sure to look at it from this perspective. To successfully effect any change, engage in increasing pleasure and getting rid of pain!

What roles to pain and pleasure play in the curves of your change?

Two Signs Of Good Advice

The other day my friend and colleague, Sebastián Lora, visited Barcelona and we met for a stimulating Gin&Tonic. He asked for my opinion about a workshop he’s preparing for Toastmasters. I gave one at last year’s District Conference, so I shared my experience.

Afterward, I wondered if I’d given useful advice. I began to reflect on criteria to recognize good advice. Family, friends, colleagues and professors whose counsel I deeply value came to mind. What do they have in common? Two things stood out:

Questions instead of recommendations
are a sign of good advice.

1. The people who give me good advice never say: “you should do this”. They have in common that they ask questions that help me discover what to do. This is a sign of wisdom.

They know no two situations are the same, that their experience is always their experience. And if they have a pretty good idea about what to do, even so they use questions to help me see the way, not just the finish line.

Tell me how – now that’s priceless!

2. Good advice consists of “how” not “what”. The people who’ve helped me improve and grow are those who’ve suggested specific alternatives.

General advice is easy to get — and give! — because it requires no real effort: do this, do that, be this, be that, blah, blah, blah! But find someone who tells you HOW you can do it, who suggests SPECIFIC ways and you’ve found a true treasure!

The world is full of people with a message.
There are few with a method.

You know you’ve found a good adviser when you hear questions that help you decide rather than recommendations that tell you what to do.

You know you’ve found a good adviser when you hear specific suggestions to improve instead of general guidelines to follow.

Did I live up to these criteria with the advice I gave to Sebastián? Only he can say. 🙂 I do remember asking questions and giving a few tips. But there’s no doubt: next time I’ll do better following these two principles!

How do you recognize good advice?

The Connection Matrix – Part One

The other day I was sitting on a plane from Warsaw to Barcelona. With me, my friend, speaker and trainer Florian Mueck. We were coming back from a spectacular Spectacular Speaking event.

In her opening speech, the incomparable Olivia Schofield, founder of the Spectacular Speaking series, said: The one thing that takes you from great to spectacular is… connection. Connection. Connection between the speaker and the audience. Connection between oneself and the other.

Florian and I started to philosophize about this subject. We played around with different dimensions and combinations and patterns. We scribbled and painted and drew and scribbled…

In the end, we knew that we wanted to show two dimensions – the self-focus (or speaker focus) and the other-focus (or audience focus). Self/other-focus refers to the degree with which one chooses to be concerned with oneself and with others.

We also knew that we wanted to use the high-low categories. Our big challenge – the four field titles. After three hours we finally felt confident about the names. “The Connection Matrix” was born.

The Connection Matrix shows four different kinds of speakers/communicators. In this first part we’ll look at the status quo of their communication mode.

Number – Low Other/Low Self

Low empathy combined with low self-interest. Numbers drive through life with their handbrake on. They’re the typical business presenters. Not passionate about the data they present, numbers deliver only to deliver. Their voice? Monotonous. Their body language? Closed. Their enthusiasm? Not existent.

They say: But how can I put passion into my monthly business unit report? Numbers never consider a speech or presentation an opportunity. For them, communication is an obligation. Creativity is for artists, they think.

They also think: I do my job. Isn’t that enough? If others don’t like what I say, it’s not my fault. Numbers are brilliant at avoiding responsibility – for themselves and the audience. Like Florian’s mom says: Where there’s no hook, you cannot hang a jacket.

The paradox with numbers is that they don’t count: no one listens, no one remembers, no one cares. Connecting as number, you fail to connect. Number-mode is beneficial only when you wish not to connect. Numbers are the poorest connectors of the four types.

Nurse – High Other/Low Self

High empathy combined with low self-interest. Nurses strive to please their audience. They communicate with the language of “you” and their goal is to promote the audience. A nurse’s communication style consists of satisfying the interests of others.

The paradox with nurses is that by failing to affirm their self-interests, the connection entails no expense and so is undervalued. Because nurses don’t speak up for themselves, audiences don’t really listen, care less and very easily forget.

Connecting as a nurse, you don’t make an impact. Nurse-mode is beneficial when you wish to go unnoticed. If you don’t shift to buddy, your audience will soon take you for granted!

Bully – Low Other/High Self

Low empathy combined with high self-interest. Bullies strive to satisfy their own interests. Bullies communicate with the language of “I” and their style consists of pushing an agenda.

In bully-mode, you believe only you hold the power to make a change. So you feel you have little to learn from your audience. A bully’s preferred strategy is Follow me, now!

The paradox with bullies is that in failing to give the recognition they seek, they struggle all the more to get it from their audience. People listen, they remember, oh! but they don’t care.

Connecting as a bully, you fail to inspire trust. Bully-mode is beneficial when all you want is to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t shift to buddy, your audience will begin to feel betrayed and soon you’ll end up talking to yourself!

Buddy – High Other/High Self

High empathy combined with high self-interest. Buddies strive to develop a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Buddies communicate with the language of “we” and their style consists of promoting ways to satisfy self-interests and the interests of others.

In buddy-mode, you believe in a joint potential and so the purpose of communicating is mutual growth. The preferred strategy is How shall we do this? You know you’re listening to a buddy when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and it feels good!

The paradox with buddy-mode is that when you place the connection at the center, the result is the speaker meets her goals and the audience gets what they came for. Everyone is happy. Audiences remember buddies, they listen to them, and they definitely care.

Connecting as a buddy, you act like a magnet, attracting others to move out their communication mode and to connect as buddies. Buddy is the ultimate mode of connection because everyone grows beyond expectation.

Whether you consider yourself a Number, a Nurse or a Bully, in The Connection Matrix – Part Two we’ll share with you insights on how to become a Buddy, the ultimate connector.

Grandpa Jose’s Effectiveness Recipe

My grandfather was born in the Azores Islands in 1906. His schooling literally lasted two days: the first and the day after. He got punished, didn’t like it, left and never went back.

Grandpa didn’t learn to read or write. Grandpa didn’t really know who Aristotle, Shakespeare or Karl Marx were. Grandpa didn’t rely on business trainings or performance enhancement models. Grandpa was a farmer.

One day, when he was but a young man, his dad gave him and his brother a gift: a pregnant young cow for the two to start their lives as herdsmen. Two years later, his brother owned two head of cattle; grandpa Jose, seven. From then on, his success kept multiplying, considerably.

This afforded him the opportunity to savor life, especially his passion for discovering the wonders of the world. In the end, grandpa grew to be quite the philosopher, readily armed with the precious pearls of common sense and practical wisdom.

The recipe of his effectiveness? He used say he remembered that often at the end of the day while he sat by the sunset reflecting, he’d notice his brother in the distance, still tilling the earth, persistently putting his back into every strike.

“Before the sun rose,” he used to say, “John would already be out on the field. And not before dark would he return! — All hard work and diligence. I did it differently. Every morning I’d ask myself: ‘What do I have planned for the day?’” Then he’d think:

How can I accomplish twice as much with half the effort? 

Grandpa kept at it until he found an answer. Most of them eventually worked.

I gather an important lesson from my grandfather: To make it an undying habit to stop, rethink and improve. I’m sure he would be happy to know that Aristotle thought along similar lines: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

I must confess, though, I sometimes recognize a bit of great-uncle John in me. What about you: with whom do you most identify with?

Decide The Ending To This Story

It was a Saturday. John had recently moved into his new apartment and was in the process of unpacking the wall of boxes standing tall in his living room.

After a couple of weeks adjusting to the new environment, he decided that this weekend he’d finally unpack.

In a box labeled “fragile” and among a bundle of gym clothes, John found a painting his younger sister had made for him before he moved. It depicted a tall, self-confident man in a suit, smiling at the viewer, and plugged by an electrical cable to what seemed to be a small red machine with wheels and a sign that read: “Good Questions Since 1989.”

As he stared into the man’s eyes, he wondered what his sister meant. He liked the painting and decided to put it up on the center living room wall. He managed to find the old rusty coffee can where he kept nails and screws and stuff. But after seven other boxes and lots of things all over the place, he gave up the quest for his toolbox.

Suddenly, the art restoration shop across the street came to mind. He had noticed it more than once: different, fresh, full of light and color. “Hey!” he thought “Maybe they could lend me a hammer.” He skipped over to the window and looked down to check if it was open. It was.

“Good” he thought. “The owner, that tall, self-confident young man that wears a suit, seems to be a nice guy. He might even remember me — I’ve seen him more than once at the café next door. Yah, I’ll ask him to lend it for just a minute. Why wouldn’t he lend me a hammer? Just because I’m a stranger?”

John stumbled around the apartment looking for his keys, which he eventually found on the couch under all his sports gear. As he went for the door, he thought: “Come on, John, you wouldn’t lend a hammer to stranger, right?” And it crossed his mind that a shop like that must have expensive and fancy equipment. The owner needs to protect it.

With growing doubt, he stepped into the elevator and pressed zero. As he looked at himself in the mirror, he said: “Is there a reason for him not to trust me?… Well, folks don’t trust each other like they used to, do they? And besides, I’ve just moved in. For all he knows, I’m a thief!”

Ding! The elevator door opened and John stepped out. He exited the building, looked across the street to the shop and asked himself: “Give me one good reason why he shouldn’t help me?” Then he thought: “Well, for starters he could be a selfish jerk who doesn’t give a damn about anybody!”

He resentfully crossed the street and walked into the shop. “Good morning!” He bluntly blurted to the young man in a suit sitting behind the counter. The man stood up and with a smile replied: “Good morning, Sir. How can I help you?”

With a cold face, John looked him in the eye and, with a touch of bitterness in his voice, said: “You don’t know me and there’s no reason for you to trust me. For all you know, I’m a thief. I actually live across the street and can’t find my hammer. So for just this once could you not be so overprotective and lend me one of those expensive hammers?!”

To the amazement of all those in the shop, the tall, self-confident young man disappeared into the back, dragging behind him his red portable oxygen tank on wheels. He returned bearing a hammer in his hand. In silence, he extended the gift to the stranger.

After thanking him and promising to be right back, John turned and left the shop. As he was crossing the doorway, the young man said: (now pick the ending you like most)

Ending 1: “By the way Sir, this is why I love my work. You see, since 1989 we’re in the business of restoring not only paintings but, more importantly, perceptions!”

Ending 2: “By the way Sir, since 1989 we repair problems with better questions. Try it. You see, the mind has no choice but to always find an answer — even to bad questions!”

Ending 3: One of your own.

Is Positive Thinking A Drag?

Small shifts can lead to big changes. During one of my workshops with senior managers of a global corporate bank, we were discussing the power of beliefs when Patty commented that she often felt exhausted after “dealing” with “difficult” team members.

She explained she normally kept a positive attitude, but was now wondering if it was actually worth it. Thinking “things will improve” wasn’t really helping and she was no longer buying the whole “positive thinking act” because results didn’t add up.

I asked if this way of thinking motivated her to lead her team. She said no. So I invited her to stop for a moment and look at what her beliefs were doing for her.

I said: “You think positive thinking is consuming and now doubt whether it’s really worth it.” “Yes, exactly”, she said. I continued: “So what you believe is not working for you, in fact you’ve begun to doubt it, is that right?” “Yes, that’s right.” Then I asked:

Is your fatigue the result of a committed effort to effectively manage your reality?

“Of course!” she said. “And do you have your team’s interests in mind when you make that effort?” Yes again. “So would it be fair to say that a) having the team’s interests in mind; and b) being committed to achieve those interests are two qualities of a leader?”

She frowned and paused. Then smiled and said: “Yes.” I asked how she felt. “Better. I don’t feel doubtful. I know I can improve the situation in my team.” “What changed?”, I asked. She thought for a moment and then replied:

Before I was focusing on how being positive made me feel tired.
Now I’m looking at my fatigue as a result of my leadership qualities.

Finally I asked: “Does this motivate you to continue leading your team?” This time she said yes. But then added: “This still doesn’t change the situation!” “Yes it has”, I said.

And added: “You’ve shifted your focus from looking at the consequences of positive thinking to appreciating the energizing effects of empowering beliefs. Changing what you focus on, changed the way you feel. This changed the situation because it changed the way you will interact and the strategies you will now choose.”

Instead of focusing on thinking positive, concentrate on what your beliefs do for you. This allows you to choose between the ones that give you energy and those that don’t. It creates new enthusiasm to interact in different ways and to devise new strategies, which leads to new outcomes.

Positive thinking is fine. But it’s not the focus. The focus is what your thinking does for you. Embracing energizing beliefs boosts you to a new reality. Small shift, big change.