Small talk, really?

The weather, a recent sport event or some TV show that seems to have made the buzz on various online media are just an example of what a basic conversation can start with. That is in the day-to-day, and in the relationship with a potential or existing supplier. It is all about sequencing what, when and to whom to talk about. It sounds funny, and small talk appears to play a big part in a work environment: being prepared for it can make or break a deal. I have witnessed both scenarios, and the social rapport and human interaction give a pretty good insight about the future of a relationship. It works the same in everyday life.

While a supplier was confirmed as the front runner for a 7-year contract, I saw him stumble on his own words, backpedalling hard in front of the jury. Even a good lawyer would have been helpless. Was he unprepared or just feeling over-confident and playing in a sandbox he had not been invited to yet? That very episode was all about attitude, perception and knowledge (i.e. discerning who is who, who has what authority and what the latest is and/or feels like internally).

B12_-_PicThere is another element to it, and, as a woman, small talk can lead to awkward situations. Sometimes, breaking the ice may look challenging, yet, dealing with salespeople, it never lasts. Some of their techniques are astonishing, and as most relationships start with a game of seduction, the ice can tend to break first, and then melt. Forget discrimination or sexism: it is all about positioning (dancing to some, and it takes two to tango), as long as one has evaluated the consequences of words and actions. Good thing it has rarely happened to me, yet some salespersons feel necessary to cross the professional line: what for? To earn more points in the selection process? Bad idea, really. Last time I checked, being pleasant in a supplier/procurement relationship gives bonus points. Playing games and walking on a fine line beyond the business purposes we are involved in falls under a category I prefer to address as soon as I catch it, regardless of the gender of my counterpart.

I have learned to do my homework and to get to know my audience before engaging into any kind of negotiation. This comes with defining strict limits of my private life, and politely manifest some assertiveness to an overzealous person (in sales or not), using tact and honesty.

I am still happy to comment on the last World Cup, the summer being late this year or how Eminem is helping the auto industry in Michigan. I usually keep my views to myself when the conversation turns to politics, unless it directly impacts the project we are working on. I want to be able to see the same person every day in the mirror, with integrity, giving in and bending for small talk, not for smooth talk.

Image courtesy of Anne Taintor