Monday, February 24, 2014
The bigness of small talk
OK, maybe not all small talk. But if you are having a business meeting with someone you haven't met or don't know well, it's big.
The convention that the American businessperson (or whomever) who wants to cut to the chase and avoid the traditional chit-chat—sometimes a trait associated with non-American cultures and can be seen as a 'waste of time'—is surprisingly short sighted.
Here's my example and my insight:
I recently overheard a half of a phone call between a manager and his freelance hire on a project. (Yes, the intimacy of cellphones in public spaces). They knew each other, but not well; it seemed early in the project. And they spent about 10 minutes of their opening conversation before "getting down to business," going over the Superbowl, which had just occurred.
And I realized how illuminating these oblique conversations could be, how revealing, how much information was presented. You found out how each one presented their ideas, responded to the other's comments, explored issues, shared information. You got a sense for how they spoke, how they listened, how they addressed problems—in conversation as well as the ones on the field.
It's how you say what you say, how you respond. How you judge, work, think—your 'general cognitive ability,' beautifully expressed in this article about what Google looks for in hiring. In the article, the head of hiring tries to articulate what's important, noting that credentials, grades, honors are all trying to be markers for something within, not things in themselves. They aren't the point, they're the product, and are meaningless without the 'beef.'
Within publishing, writers sometimes ask if awards help sell a book. Well, yes they can—but I also want to say, "You have it backwards."
Things (books, people, films, whatever) often get an award because they are exceptional. So an exceptional, fabulous story may get an award, but it doesn't get bought because it got an award, it gets bought because it's fabulous.
That's also why some stories can get awards, but not get sold—because the judges may have wanted to reward or acknowledge something exceptional, perhaps something groundbreaking, or courageous.
But by virtue of its very exceptionalness, it may not be very commercial.
So it can be worthwhile to listen between the lines.