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Monday, May 10, 2010

How to make small talk at your summer job.

This week's tip is about making small talk when you're at social events organized by your employers.  Yes, even though the days of lush summer outings are gone, you'll still have to make small talk at lunches, dinners, and the other ways that your employers are testing your social skills.  (Oh, you didn't realize that the social occasions are testing your social skills?  They are.  Your employers need to make sure that you can work well with others socially as well as intellectually.)

If you're shy:  the easiest way to get over your shyness is to get the other people to talk about themselves.  Talking about yourself, if you're shy, is miserable.  Asking a question so that others talk is much better.  Try asking people about their hobbies:  "What do you do for fun when you're not working?"  You can safely ask about whether people have pets, if they're going on any interesting trips in the future, and similar topics.  As you well know, politics and religion are both tricky subjects.  You can talk about these issues, if you're clearly respectful of others' views, but you might want to wait until someone else initiates those topics.

Even if you're not shy, part of your mission this summer is to learn about your potential co-workers.  Are these people with whom you could see yourself working?  Nancy's test was always whether she wanted to be with her potential co-workers on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings at her job, which was when relationships with equally tired co-workers were tested the most.  (Yep, she worked her share of full weekends, and she worked at a law firm in the good old days.) 

People shape organizations.  If you like the people, you may end up liking the organization (although even the most likable of people can lead an organization astray--see Ken Lay).  Dislike the people, and your psyche may be giving you clues about why--see Blink, Malcolm Gladwell's book about instincts and why they're useful.

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