Dear Friends & Colleagues:

I haven’t posted in a couple of months and the reason is I moved from Montana to New Mexico. And, for all of us who have moved in the recent past, it’s a time commitment. Every time I move I swear it’s the last. And, yet, we move. I’m settled in to my new house finally, and hopefully no more pauses in my weekly excerpts from my recently published book, How To Win Client Business. We’re into the final stretch of the book. Eight chapters to go.

This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 18: Conversation Skills for Introverts (and the Rest of Us, Too). This chapter discusses the importance of small talk in building relationships with prospective clients. Interestingly, introverts – which there are many of us in professional services – have some natural skills which lend themselves to small talk. Specifically, curiosity and good listening skills. We’ll learn that asking thoughtful questions and listening patiently is a foundation of being a good conversationalist.

In addition to the text excerpt below, I’m providing a short 5 minute audio version as well – narrated by me. So, if you’d rather listen to a sample from Chapter 18 in lieu of the text excerpt, simply click here. (Note: If your preferred format is audio, the audiobook is now available on Amazon and is beautifully narrated by Barry Abrams – one of the best in the industry.)

Here’s this week’s excerpt. I hope you enjoy it!



Chapter 18: Conversation Skills for Introverts (and the Rest of Us, Too)

Using Small Talk to Find Common Ground


People feel comfortable being around people with whom they have things

in common. Remember the playground idea I shared earlier – kids tend to hang

out with kids who enjoy the same activities as they do. This analogy applies to

finding common ground with people in business. Donald Miller discusses the

importance of common ground in his New York Times bestselling book Building

a Story Brand.


Customers look for brands they have something in common with. The human

brain likes to conserve calories, and so when a customer realizes they have a lot

in common with a brand, they fill in all the unknown nuances with trust. Essentially,

the customer batches their thinking, meaning they’re thinking in “chunks” rather

than details. Commonality, whether taste in music or shared values, is a powerful

marketing tool.


Miller’s insight applies to our personal brands as well. This is why so-called

“small talk” is so important – the seemingly irrelevant chit chat that often begins a

business conversation. Small talk creates an opportunity to find common ground,

and to begin to get to know one another on a more personal level.


In many parts of the U.S. and the world, it’s perceived as rude to get right down

to business. The length of the small talk varies from region to region. In some parts

of the world, small talk may go on for hours or days. In the southern U.S., small

talk may last 15 minutes; in New York, maybe five. I have come to realize there is

significant relationship-building value in small talk. It’s important to be sensitive to

cultural norms, but the benefit that it provides is significant.


One of Frank Bush’s relationship tips was to know the people you’re calling on

and find a way to connect with them personally. Connecting on a personal level is finding

common ground. When we find that we have things in common with someone,

we begin to connect on a more human level and the early glimpses of trust begin to

emerge. As humans, we tend to trust people more when we have things in common.


Many of us in professional services tend to be more introverted. Some of us

reluctantly admit that talking with new people is challenging. And while we don’t

have to be the next Oprah Winfrey or Stephen Colbert, I do think there is value is

learning to find common ground with others through small talk. Perhaps the best

news for us introverts is that good listeners are often the best conversationalists.


Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, offers this

point from his research: “the most successful relationship builders frequently ask

thoughtful questions and listen with remarkable patience.” This is a skill that lends

itself well to introverts.


Small talk also lends itself to those who are naturally curious; curiosity about

new things leads to learning and listening. Murray Joslin, senior vice president at

Integreon, shared that “We have found over the years that innate curiosity is one

of the keys to business development success. Curious people want to learn and

listen – skills that lead to success in building relationships.”


Amy Cuddy – the Harvard psychologist we met earlier, studied the role of

listening in how others perceive us. Her research led to an interesting finding she

refers to as the paradox of listening. Rather than speaking, asserting, and knowing,

we become more powerful when we stop talking, stop preaching, and listen.

According to Cuddy, here’s what happens:


  • People can trust you.
  • You begin to see other people as individuals, and maybe even allies.
  • You acquire useful information.
  • You develop solutions that other people are willing to accept and even adopt.
  • When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen.


There are an infinite number of ways to find common ground with other

people: current events, sports, hobbies, schools and colleges, regional culture, kids,

employers, and travel – just to name a few. With social media, we can quickly learn

a lot about people. We can see the cities where people live, what they do professionally,

who they work for, where they went to college, and often what their hobbies

are. In a few minutes before a phone call or a meeting, we will discover numerous

ways to find common ground with a new friend or colleague.


We can also learn more about someone through a mutual acquaintance, hence

the power of our professional ecosystem. We might say to a colleague, “Hey, I’m

meeting with your friend, Tamara, later today. What can you tell me about her?”


Doing research on a person’s background is a form of listening. And, like

listening, researching a person’s background shows that we care about them. When

we show up already knowing a few things about the other person, it signals that

we want to know more about them. When we take an interest in another person,

it makes them feel good about themselves. And it makes us more likeable – not in

a phony kind of way, but in a sincere, empathetic way. It provides opportunities for

finding a common connection.


Click here to order your copy of my new book, How To Win Client Business, today!