Small Talk and the Economics of Signaling
Craig Newmark recently linked to this article [make sure you bookmark his blog, if you have not already done so!]. Even though it is more than a year old, the article has timeless advice, which I promptly sent to my offspring. As I said to them, when I follow this advice, things are good; when I don't, they aren't. Here, in this excerpt, is the pith of the piece:
The ability to connect in short, casual conversations can make or break careers, friendships and romances -- it's how we gather information and, hopefully, make a favorable impression. If you don't believe me, there are thousands of consultants, authors and communication coaches who will (for a fee) share their wisdom and tips for breaking the ice, working a room and taking over the world, one convention chitchat at a time.Small talk sends signals to and from people, but signals are just probablistic estimates about complex characteristics, about which it is costly to collect information. It is sometimes/often worth the effort to think about the signals one sends: the incremental expected benefits of doing so will usually outweigh the expected incremental costs of doing so.
Pay no attention to the experts behind the curtain. They'll have you practicing opening lines in your mirror, which will make you look stiff and silly in front of a real person. There are only three golden rules for small talk:
1. Shut up and listen.
2. When in doubt, repeat Rule 1.
3. People, even the really shy ones, like to talk about themselves and will do so if you know how to draw them out. You have to be genuinely interested. You have to check your ego. If this is done right, they walk away thinking you're great.