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Breaking the Silence

Brushing up on your small talk is more important than you think.

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This story appears in the February 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A quiet elevator ride or break room java fix is fine when solo, but occupy that same space with one of your employees, and suddenly the silence is deafening. Like it or not, as the business owner, you should show you care about the people who help run your enterprise, and these moments are the perfect opportunity. But if engaging in idle chitchat makes you groan inwardly, take heart: Small talk can convey warmth even if the only real heat is the steam rising from your coffee mug.

Because of its informal nature, small talk provides an easy in-and-out of quick conversations that can leave employees feeling good about the interaction, though you may have forgotten moments later. "If you hear employees talking about a movie or what they did on the weekend, get involved," instructs Don Gabor, small-talk expert and author of Words That Win: What to Say to Get What You Want (Prentice Hall Press). Throw in a quick question or comment, and you instantly succeed in showing interest, as well as proving you're not all business, in a matter of mere seconds.

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