social networking

All that’s needed to turn me from an introvert to a people person is the ability to skip small talk, at least in the beginning. Thank you, Internet!

Take today, for example. I was working on a wiki guide to social media on a client site when I heard a cheery voice introduce himself and say that he found me on a social network. A few minutes later, I was deep in conversation with someone I’d never met or even talked to before. He had noticed that my client contact had added me on LinkedIn, and that I was from IBM. Intrigued, he checked out my profile and read my blog. He was baffled by the Emacs posts, but he noticed my passion for social computing, and that was something that he was very interested in. We talked about knowledge management, technology adoption, influencing behavior, the different initiatives going on at the company. I recommended two books:

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al SwitzlerRead more about this book…
The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative
by Stephen DenningRead more about this book…

… and I’m definitely looking forward to more conversations.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if people in his company—and in other companies—could meet and talk to other people as easily as he found and talked to me? Wouldn’t it be great if people could skip past all the small talk and build rapport by talking about the things people are passionate about?

  • Skip the small talk?!?

    Granted, it has its advantages in efficiency, but small talk is where you get to guage a person and his responses. It’s like the communications equivalent of test-driving a car. Does the person communicate ideas well? Does he jump in with both feet and start a deep discussion? Does he seem uncomfortable speaking to strangers and therefore need a little handholding? And just who IS this person who showed up at my doorstep at 3am with questions about VoIP?

    Take away all that human interaction and you take away all the fun of meeting new people.

    And what if this guy’s 100% passionate about something you’re simply NOT interested in? Do you simply end the conversation with equal efficiency, or do you extricate yourself gracefully but carefully?

    I think I’d be lost without a little small talk. Well… possibly not lost as much as greatly hindered.

    • Yes, but imagine if you could pick up all those cues while talking about something more interesting than the weather… ;)

      I don’t want to do away with personal talk. I’m all for adding a personal dimension to work connections. =) In fact, blogs can be a surprisingly good way to get a glimpse of people’s personal lives. I’m getting better at managing that odd transition into that kinda-know-you stage. I might blink if someone I haven’t met comes up to me, starts talking about my blog, and says she misses her cat too, but I’m getting better at dealing with the inequality of information (people know more about me than I do about them) by asking plenty of questions.

      So while other people are waffling about with “So… umm… what do _you_ do?”, I’d rather talk about something we’re both interested in, and then discover other cool things along the way. Meeting new people is even more fun when you have a springboard, when you can discover more about them than might come out in the first thirty seconds. =)

      Conversations starting from blog posts are usually about the person’s interests. After all, that’s why they blogged about it. This is another reason why blogs help make people more approachable. Other people know in advance some topics that might spark a good conversation. They can then do their homework and come with an interesting question or point of view. =)

  • Mark

    Well, being the person who spoke with Sacha, I quite enjoyed (in this instance) to avoid the preliminary small talk and get to the point. Though I agree that small talk is important to find out about each other, it was great that I could start a similar interest conversation right away.

    BTW – I will not be showing up at your doorstep at 3am :)

    • I think it was fantastic. =) Thanks for reaching out!

  • If you DO show up at my doorstep at 3am, you will, amusingly, find me awake. The hazards of running a business are that I simply can’t sleep. I manage about 3 hours a night.

    And sadly, I would almost be too interested to turn away someone who showed up at my doorstep at 3am to discuss VoIP (or any other topic). It’s that undying curiosity, coupled with a deep love of communication that will likely be the death of me someday. ;)

    • Watch out for sleep deprivation and that general feeling of ack!!pth. Running a business is good, but don’t run yourself into the ground while doing so. Overloaded? Delegate as much as you can and develop people around you. You’ll feel happier about it, too.
      – (or so all the books I’ve read say.)

      • Oh indeed. Delegation is key. I’d be lost without the people I trust to get so much of these things done. But there’s also this deep sense of attachment to a company. It’s a bit like having a child (I imagine). You’ve done all this work and put in all this time, and you really want to be there for the experience every step of the way. You don’t want to look back two years down the road and feel like it’s just sort of all happened without you.

        I don’t feel overwhelmed or overloaded as much as I just feel like things are never moving fast enough. If I put in just that extra bit of effort, I’m sure I can move things along at the pace I’d like to see. At least, that’s what goes through my head at 2:30 in the morning when I wake up to see my laptop next to me in bed.

        It’s rather lucky that my fiancee ended up with a job in Toronto, and I’m stuck here for now. It drives her insane to see me up at all hours plugging away at work. And yet…. it drives me insane to be apart from it for too long.

        The last time I was up in Canada, we went for a week to piddle about Quebec. It was perhaps the longest time I’ve been away from work in a while. I felt a little antsy, really.

        • People work out their own balance. =) If yours works for you and your fiancee, great. If there’s tension, check your priorities. The best kind of work is also very fulfilling (great feedback, sense of accomplishment, etc.).

          Something to watch out for based on the lives of other people we see around us is this: if you sacrifice the somewhat harder things in life (resolving communication difficulties, rebalancing priorities, etc.), then those things will get harder and harder, and work will look easier and easier in comparison. This is fine if that’s really how people’s priorities go–there are people who are very happily dedicated to their work, and their families understand that. But if people’s values don’t agree with their actions, then they might be headed for a mid-life crisis eventually (if they’re lucky; some people wake up way too late). =)

          My dad gets antsy if he’s away from the family business too long, I think. He loves photography, and happily works weekends, holidays, and evenings. I think he’s fantastic. He’s managed to be there for us every bit of the way, too. =) So yes, you can have it all, you just need to pay attention.