Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World

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9781416561422: Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World

E-mail, texting, BlackBerry, MySpace: more and more, technology dominates our communication. We are often tuning out those around us -- to the point of e-mailing the person at the next desk or surreptitiously checking our BlackBerrys during a meeting.

Bestselling author, communications expert, and popular keynote speaker Susan RoAne shows that face to face encounters are still paramount to both career and personal success. For those attached to their gadgets, gizmos, and Google, RoAne explains how technology should enhance, not envelop their lives. Whether it's handling office politics, turning small talk into BIG TALK, finding a mentor, or conducting successful business deals over meals, RoAne offers tips to interact and connect with comfort and confidence in shared social space.

Practical and eminently readable, Face to Face belongs in every handbag or briefcase to help today's professionals succeed in the workplace and the public space.

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About the Author:

Susan RoAne is a bestselling author, an in-demand keynote speaker, and a communications coach. She has shared her strategies with audiences in corporate, convention, and university America as well as on radio and television around the world. Susan has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, The Financial Times of London, msn.com, and businessweek.com. She is the author of four books, including The Secrets of Savvy Networking, What Do I Say Next?, and How To Create Your Own Luck. Susan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Small to Medium to Big Talk

As we meet with others in the face to face space, many of our initial conversations begin with a getting-to-know-you exchange, or small talk. "Meeting with people in person gives us the opportunity to truly connect with them," according to psychologist, Dr. Nando Pelusi (Psychology Today, November/December 2007, p. 689). Some people sneer at small talk and dismiss it as banal or trivial and a waste of precious time. That's a huge mistake, because small talk allows us to connect with others and establish common interests. Many people avoid face to face time because they're neither comfortable nor confident in their abilities to communicate in person. They may be forfeiting amazing opportunities.

I asked more than a hundred successful people who I thought were great conversationalists (and I'm a tough grader), "To what skill do you most attribute your success?" Their number one answer was the ability to converse.

In these competitive, multitasking times, there are people so focused on their agendas, their quotas, their digital techie tools, their professional and personal obligations and their bottom line that they forget their spoken words contribute to the chemistry and connections with their clients, colleagues, friends and families. Others take pride in being urgent, get-to-the-point, terse people who have more important things on their mind than small talk, which they feel is insignificant drivel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life and work flow more smoothly when we're comfortable with conversation and, more important, when we know how to make others feel comfortable. We need to embrace small talk because it leads to big talk.

Unequivocal Equation

In the early 1990s, Dr. Thomas Harrell, professor emeritus of business at Stanford University, studied a group of MBAs a decade after their graduation. His goal was to identify the traits of those who were most successful. He found that grade-point average had no bearing on success. However, the one common trait he identified among those who were successful was their verbal fluency. They were confident conversationalists who could talk to anyone face to face: colleagues, investors, strangers, bosses or associates. They could speak well in front of audiences, and they were easy to talk to in meetings, on airplanes, at events and casually over beverages at receptions. They started with small talk and segued through Medium Talk to Big Talk about business, interests, technology, and trends. These savvy businesspeople possessed the skills of successful leaders: the ability to converse, connect and communicate in myriad situations. The unequivocal equation is verbal fluency = success and affluency.

If we want to be successful, we need to develop and enhance our conversational prowess in the face to face space. Schmooze or lose is the rule for both personal and professional success. Schmooze means relaxed, friendly, easygoing conversation. Period. End of story. There is no end result that is preplanned as a goal. Formal research from Harvard to Stanford and places in between indicates that the ability to converse and communicate is a key factor of successful leaders. Oral communication skills are consistently rated in the top three most important skill sets in surveys by universities and workplace specialists.

While we're able to communicate digitally, we still must be proficient in the face to face shared space as well as in cyberspace. As corporations continue to merge, jobs disappear and industries are offshored, we need conversation and communication more than ever before. Networks of loyal customers and professional and personal relationships become pivotal. We not only establish, develop and nurture those relationships by our actions but also by our exchanges and our face to face conversations.

While we want to start with brilliant, scintillating and/or illuminating commentary, the reality is that we start with small talk. These comments are also known as icebreakers. I prefer to call them ice melters, which slowly but surely meld and mix our conversations, questions, answers and interests as we establish common bonds.

Some of us are naturally briefer in our conversations. Saving nanoseconds by eliminating conversational connections with people makes no sense at all in business or in personal life. By the time we leave the planet, we may have saved an hour by avoiding those moments. Big deal. If we invest in the pleasantries of small talk to establish rapport and confirm connections, we'll probably be happier, richer and have more friends.

Don't Join the Denigrators

My survey of one hundred great conversationalists yielded two results, one of which stunned me. The first is that 75 percent of the responders, people whom I considered to be great conversationalists, still thought of themselves as shy. I was shocked. Several admitted to working through shyness, but at times they still felt uncomfortable. They could have fooled me! In fact, they did. They worked through it so well that I found them to be exemplary at face to face conversation.

The second result was that not one of my great chatters denigrated small talk. They simply saw it as a way of getting to know people, putting others at ease as well as themselves, and finding common ground. Different attitude, different outcome. Not to sound Socratic, but my deduction is clear: "therefore only challenged conversationalists denigrate small talk."

Think about it. Have you ever had a wonderful conversation with someone who had no interest in the little things that start, move and expand verbal exchanges? I think not. Only those who aren't good at or comfortable with small talk make light of it and, in fact, put it down.

Medium Rare

Medium talk is the transitional exchange that builds on small-talk topics and segues to larger issues. For example, you may start talking about the event venue, the food and how the venue was recognized for supporting local soup kitchens. The other person's response will probably be on that subject. You would move then to medium talk, which might include how your company or you as an individual is involved in providing volunteer servers for the program.

The transition occurs when you bring your newest project or company into the conversation about a neutral topic. If your conversational companion is not adept at exchanges, you can ask about his or her projects or company policies and programs. And the conversation may organically move back to small talk and then hopscotch to BIG TALK.

Small Talk Leads to BIG TALK

In most situations, BIG TALK -- murder, war, famine, pestilence and papal edict 123 -- is not a verbal exchange starter. At a museum fund-raiser for students of the arts, not everyone wants to hear your views on the latest virus or border skirmish. Also, no matter how big or important current issues are, you must know the right time and place for them. You can move to bigger issues once rapport and connection are established.

Because small talk is the biggest talk we do, we need a collective attitude shift. Because it builds, develops and nurtures relationships, conversation is how we strengthen the safety net of people who make up our personal and professional networks, our Rolodex™ (buddy lists, databases and friends) of sources and resources. You could say we ought to build our "rolodexterity." Small talk is valuable. It's how we find common interests/bonds and exchange information, preferences, ideas and opinions on issues. It's how we melt the ice and get a sense of who people are -- what they like and what they are like. And it doesn't always have to be about small subjects. I've often heard people getting to know one another by having casual conversations about art, economics, government programs or health issues.

Small talk is what we do to start the exchange that moves to medium talk and then builds to big talk. It's the schmoozing that cements relationships and ultimately leads to success. "Conversations are quasi-relationships. Every second you're with someone, every word or sentence you exchange extends the relationship," said Tim Gunn, cohost of Project Runway (Wall Street Journal, "Small Talk," October 25, 2007).

This Is How We Do It

Information is power. Building a knowledge bank helps us start and contribute to face to face conversations with more ease and interest. Whether online or in print, reading a newspaper or news source each day is a must! That's how we glean conversational subject matter. Some people balk at this suggestion until they try it. This is not only the best way to invest in the knowledge bank from which to draw conversation, but it can also be fun, entertaining and informative. Whether it's online or on paper, the newspaper is full of conversation topics. If you're not a reader, listen to or watch a news program or visit your favorite news blogs.

Why should a busy person with a multitude of demands on his or her time read a daily newspaper? As my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Kurtz, said, "A good conversationalist is well read, well versed and well rounded." He or she knows what is going on in the world and can talk about it. Reading the paper makes face to face conversation infinitely more manageable.

The Desktop Twist on News

Whether it's from Google, Yahoo!, AOL or another source, we can get news bits delivered to our desktop and even our cell phone. We can visit any number of news sites, blogs or podcasts for the latest on an infinite variety of subjects. We have instant access to news locally and globally.

It makes us aware of popular culture and industry information. You do not have to be a "Dead Head" to know about the legacy of Jerry Garcia or a "Trekkie" to know about Mr. Spock and the newest Star Trek movie. Nor do you have ...

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