Bring Back Small Talk

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, CEO of Incite to Leadership on small talk the image shows a midlife woman with glasses chatting to a male colleague while holding a cup of coffee

Have you ever wondered if we should bring small talk back?

Pre-COVID, I often discussed how the most important parts of meetings were the small talk moments—those informal chats while waiting for others to join or as everyone left the room. This small talk bonded people through shared experiences, like seeing the same movie or enjoying a mutual hobby.

Nowadays, meetings are virtual. We join with a click and vanish just as quickly when it’s over, losing those valuable small-talk moments. As a meeting designer or leader, it’s crucial to reintroduce small talk, especially when building connections is essential.

For ongoing teams or cross-functional collaborations, helping people get to know each other can significantly enhance relationships and collaboration. A great method is from Jenny Sauerklein at Scaling Intimacy: pose a quick, engaging question and break participants into small groups for three to five minutes. Questions like “When was the last time you laughed?” or “What was the best thing you did this weekend?” can lighten the mood and foster genuine connections. When people come back, you’ll notice the mood is lighter and they are more willing to listen and more engaged than before you sent them off.

Trust me, it’s a worthwhile 5 minutes and that’s not too long of a time in a meeting that could be blocked off for an hour.

Bringing small talk back is a simple yet powerful tool. It enhances engagement and creates a more connected and effective team, even in virtual settings.

Read more on building connections in a team.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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