Why it pays to value small talk

Talking peopleLucy Kellaway, a columnist for the Financial Times, recently wrote about the powerful effects of being able to remember the small talk of what people say at work.

Talking generally about ability to recall key details, she cited an experiment at the University of California, Los Angeles in which people were asked to draw the Apple logo.

Amazingly, 98.8 per cent of the sample failed to accurately draw the picture. Almost everyone got it wrong, either by putting the bite on the wrong side, drawing two leaves instead of one, or in some other way bungling the job.

“We cannot recall it because we do not have to,” she concluded.

The implications for communicating at work are serious. Some of the most important things you have to remember during working hours are people’s faces, names and some basic information about them.

In my view, people who value other people, also value small talk and are more likely to remember details about people. For them, it is an effortless task and so easy to remember. It seems to come naturally. Unlike the people in the Apple experiment, they have chosen to remember.

Conversely, people who don’t assign such high value may find it more difficult to recall personal details.

That’s a problem because people generally feel valued when they are remembered, when some of that personal detail has been retained. Not remembering people has the opposite effect. It makes people feel deflated and undervalued.

That means that the group who value people are off to a flying start when it comes to interpersonal communication, while the other group are severely hampered.

So what if you are one of those people that can’t remember details about people? Does that mean you are a bad communicator, or lessen your chances of becoming a good one? What can you do about it?

It’s possible that in future wearable technology will do the job for you. There are already apps for Google glass that use facial recognition and that can link to details about people such as their likes and dislikes.

However, it’s not the ‘remembering’ that’s important – it’s about valuing people and making people feel valued.

And having that as our focus must surely be what will lead to us becoming more effective communicators.

Picture: Charly W.Karl [Creative Commons]

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