Enough Small Talk — How to Talk Big and Enact Change in the Workplace

Small talk, coworkers, and conferences.

Picture yourself at a conference, surrounded by coworkers and peers in your industry. It’s hard to imagine a professional, social setting and not picture yourself attempting the awkward task of mingling. Maybe there have even been times where the idea of chit-chat with strangers and coworkers alike inspired dread.

Now, imagine yourself mingling with someone in the same field. What are you talking about? How does your conversation unfold? How do you feel about it?

It’s all too common that the conversations people imagine — and the ones they’re most experienced having in a social setting — are polite, surface-level, and forgettable. These social opportunities may feel like a waste of time at best and an emotional task at worst due to the content of the conversation.

There’s no rule that says you have to make small talk. Think about it: Nothing is keeping you from engaging your colleagues in meaningful conversation. Events such as these are rare opportunities to be surrounded by innovative colleagues who likely share your excitements, passions, and frustrations. What do you lose by cutting past the formalities and asking real questions?

Social event, comfort zone, and conversations.

Next time you find yourself at a social event, force yourself out of your comfort zone and try Big Talk instead. Big Talk is centered around change, transforming lives, and impacting results.

Big Talk Conversation Starters

· How effective are we at delivering results?

· What do we need to do to increase our performance capacity?

· What needs to happen that is not happening now?

· What pain are we experiencing now in the business?

· What is it costing the organization to have this problem?

· If we were to start with a clean slate, what would we do differently?

· How effective are we as leaders? How do we know?

· In our organizational culture, what is the level of commitment to change and improving performance?

· How effective are we at having leadership conversations that enable us to creatively solve business challenges?

Small talk provides an excuse for small thinking. When it comes to leading change, let yourself ask the hard questions — Big Talk encourages your peers to think big and find the paths to make those big ideas a reality.

Peers, approaching, and relevancy.

Leaders who fail to choose Big Talk and center conversations around shared goals may undermine themselves. Be conscious of how you speak about change, and watch out for these heralds of self-defeat:

Postponing

Leaders who postpone change have multiple reasons. They may be in their role for only a short time, so why start something they can’t finish? Or they might rationalize that because the volume of change is so great, it’s better to change later — it’s almost too much to deal with now. So they go on a change diet where they cut out anything that might upset the status quo.

Passively Approaching

Leaders who passively approach change never quite get down to the heart of it. They circle round, stand at the edges, maybe let a little sink in, but they don’t embrace it for themselves or champion it for others. These leaders talk the good-change talk, but there is no action. Their communication lands in the ears of employees like small talk, shallow and insubstantial, because no big change ever occurs.

Taking It Piecemeal

Leaders who use a piecemeal approach to change work on a system here or a process there, but they fail to realize the holistic nature of change. They try out a lot of small improvements, but those changes typically yield small results. They rarely tackle the tough work of transforming the business, improving the customer experience, or aligning priorities.

Always be aware of where you are on the continuum of change and where you want to be. These are all pitfalls that encourage leaders to stagnate. Don’t let a concern for order scare you out of taking the steps to make a change.

At cocktail parties, you can afford small talk. At the office, Big Talk is the only real conversation that will keep you relevant. And to remain relevant, you must grow, adapt, and change.

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