With many people we’ve been able to observe the simple logic, that the more conversations with have with them, the better we know them. But then, sometimes, there is a moment in a conversation when a subject comes up that has never been touched upon in the past and we realize that there is a broad range of things we don’t know about that person.
Sometimes it even shifts the relationship.
Recently a colleague shared for example that after discovering one of his clients’ political ideas he wasn’t sure anymore if he could continue to work with him as he had done before. He didn’t like him as much as he did before.
That discovery impacted my colleague’s sense of similarity with the other. One of his core beliefs didn’t seem to be shared by the other.
As so often, it had been through small talk that he learned to know that such a difference existed.
It is one of the functions of small talk to allow us to identify shared experiences, beliefs, values, and interests. It also allows us to let go of the subject if it may lead to something more tense or difficult to manage. It creates the space to decide what we want to do with our differences and similarities. Usually, it’s the space to explore similarities.
Digging into similarities but also differences allows us to strengthen our connection with someone else. Similarities contribute to our ease of being with each other. Differences can reduce the ease of being together and impact our ability to like one another. However, some differences are important to liking one another. Once we know how to let them exist as they are and integrate them into the richness of what we can give one another, they become an asset in the relationship. Coming to that conclusion, however, requires going beyond small talk.
Psychologist Robert Cialdini described the “Principle of Liking” as an important element of our ability to influence. That is, we find likable people more influential. Beyond similarities, it is praise that contributes to us finding someone likable. One of the contributions of praise is for example our ability to highlight when differences contribute to the richness of the experience together.
This can also explain, why pleasing others or being deferential towards them isn’t contributing well to being likable. However, the opposite isn’t helpful either.
Being likable contributes to our ability to influence others, that is, it creates time and space for attention. That is, it allows for conversations that can be wisely used to either build the relationship or do better work together.