The art of small talk can be boiled down to one simple piece of advice—ask the other person questions. Of course things are more complex than that, but by actively engaging the other person small talk will be much easier and more sincere.
First make sure you are covering the following three criteria—be authentic, make a sincere connection, choose a topic that gives a taste of who you are. But how does one accomplish this?
Avoid “news update” topics such as weather, sports and traffic.
Be aware of your surroundings. If you are in someone else’s space. Choose a unique object in the room to ask questions about. It could be a family photo or an unusual decoration. It is ok to share personal news as well, but make sure it is something that actually happened. The point is to be sincere. Invented niceties might momentarily fill the silence but won’t add up to a conversation.
Don’t be afraid to speak first.
Make eye contact and be aware of your facial expressions and body language. As in all conversations what your body says can be more revealing than what your mouth speaks.
Finally, just go for it. If you are authentic and speak with purpose you might find yourself in the middle of an interesting conversation.
Asking for and actually getting good advice is more of a science than one might think. They way one begins the conversation is important. Keep the tone as positive as possible. Something simple and direct—I’d love you advice—will do the trick.
One should immediately identify the kind of advice they are seeking and after their opening line address the topic in the form of a question. Come to the conversation prepared with questions and specific details. Make sure you clearly define the problem. Stay on topic so you aren’t wasting someone’s time with a wandering conversation.
Additionally, take time to consider who is the right person to ask for advice from. People often go to friends or family members for advice because they are comfortable speaking to them. However, that doesn’t make that person the right one to ask. You need someone with knowledge and experience with whatever it is you are dealing with.
Don’t ask too many people. You can’t follow everyone’s advice and there are diminishing returns with too many opinions to analyze.
Don’t ask for advice if what you are seeking is validation or praise. If one has no intention of seriously considering another’s opinion, don’t waste anyone’s time.
Stop wasting time with meaningless meetings, whatever kind of organizations you’ve been a part of, sure you’ve attended a meeting that could have been an email. Make sure only necessary team members attend—there is nothing worse then attending a meeting that doesn’t apply to you. Do your best to keep everyone engaged, don’t allow for distractions (instruct that cell phones are to be left outside).
While the cliché stands that two or more minds is better than one actually making a group decision is quite challenging even when the decision is of smaller consequence. To improve group decision making make sure you define the task. Choose the right team members to work with to come to a decision. Set criteria for the decision to be made. Brainstorm and set in stone several options before voting or discussing. Come up with a pre-agreed upon selection process. Develop plans to put the decision into action. Evaluate the effectiveness of the decision and the process that created it.
As you improve yourself you need to support your employees in their personal development. It is important as it makes everyone on the team better. Give team members time to fully engage with new learning and skill development. You might even develop some in-house opportunities for essential skill sets for new team members. Follow up with your team members and discuss what they’ve learned and how they are applying it. When everyone is always improving there will be fewer stoppages to instruct in areas where team members lack.
Take the lead with self-care and self-learning. Demonstrate by doing. You are effectiveness as leader is dependent on your own health and personal improvement.
Healthier people usually have more energy, think more clearly, have a longer attention span and don’t get sick as often. Good leaders should be eating a healthy diet—consult your physician on what this may mean for you. Strive to get enough, quality sleep. Do your best to partake in physical activity—you might even make group exercise a part of your team’s day on occasion. Try to mitigate stress.
Being a good leader means staying on top of your game. Don’t feel pressured to always have all the answers, but you should always be learning new skills, studying new subject matter and developing your leadership tools. While you are surely busy you’ll want to make the best use of your time. Commit. Set real deadlines and block out time for self-improvement on your calendar in pen. Immediately find ways to put new knowledge, skills and tools into practice. You don’t actually learn until you use new knowledge.
Finally, celebrate your successes. This will help subconsciously reinforce the value of a healthy lifestyle and ongoing learning.
However new your organization is it will have automatically have a “culture” to some degree—this will largely be created by the mix of team members you have already assembled. From here there are two things that need to happen—first look at your team and decide what the core values of the culture are.
What is it you want to promote in your culture? What do you want to dissuade? There is no one right answer and despite changing trends and unfamiliar even unusual types of workplaces there is always a small contingent of people who like doing things the old-fashioned way.
It is important to find out what is important to your current team members and come to consensus on what kind of dynamic you want to create in your shared space and in the work you do together. Once you do that you should begin to look for new people to add to this team.
It should be clear that skill and ability are not the only factors to consider. If you are interviewing a potential new team member who seems pretty straight laced and traditional and you run the kind of organization that likes to take random dance breaks or have ping pong tournaments during work hours you might want to ask about them about the kind of organizational culture they feel they thrive under.
The new workplace is more fluid and job titles are becoming less important. Many of today’s employees seek interesting projects with meaningful problems to solve. They want meaningful work and not just titles.
One major change in organizations is that in these new types of project-oriented spaces, teams do more and more without first seeking approval from those who are above them. People in non-management positions are acting and thinking more like traditional leaders.
And in many organizations, this is exactly the kind of team member that is wanted. Those who are problem solvers that can work with varied peer groups, keep themselves organized and on task and move forward on their own with confidence. Essentially being their own boss.
So, if organizations are looking for this kind of team member and the traditional “nanny” type manager is no longer needed, what is the role of the leader in this new world?
Simply put, you should be there to share your experience. You are the extra cog, the extra ball bearing. A floater. Someone with confidence and experience who can transition from one part of a project to another to help where help is needed. Leaders are now the support staff—not to say you should be making copies and bringing some one coffee (though maybe sometimes that is the most useful thing you could be doing for your team), but you are there as the multi-tool.
Imagine being this kind of leader who trusts his team members to do their jobs and doesn’t “helicopter-parent” yet drops in on a parachute with a light touch and a wisdom based suggestion just when the team needs it.