The first job I had after graduating from college was as a bank teller at the Brookline Savings Bank in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have a liberal arts degree.)
It was a great job – the best one I ever had, before or since.
Fast-paced, varied, independent, and thanks to the fact that at the end of each shift you were responsible for “balancing” all the transactions, it had a built-in means of determining how successful you had been over the course of the day.
It was also very social. This was the early 80s – the days before ATM machines and credit cards were in common use.
Unlike today (I can’t remember the last time I stepped inside a bank lobby), back then, people of all stripes went to the bank, all the time. It was a cash-based world; if you needed money, you had to come see me.
As a result, I had dozens of short “conversations” with customers every day. And depending on what was happening in the world at large, the conversations were nearly all the same.
Snowstorm coming? People would talk about how much was expected.
Michael Jackson releases “Thriller?” People would ask if I bought the album yet.
Heading into Super Bowl weekend? I guarantee you that the conversation would be about little else.*
[*Other than maybe the fact that there was a five-year-old kid named “Tommy” out on the west coast somewhere who, in about 20 years’ time, would be showing up here in New England to make our football dreams come true.]
Why were these people chatting with me about anything? Why not just hand me your paperwork, take your cash, and move on?
The answer, I think, is because that’s what people (especially Americans) do. It’s natural, it’s friendly, it’s a little bit fun.
And yet, when it comes to you – a professional service provider creating content and interacting with clients and others in the course of doing business – the tendency is to omit all that friendly, chatty stuff.
“Oh, well, that’s different,” you’ve no doubt just said out loud to your wondering-when-you’ll-ever-leave-the-house-again cat.
“I don’t want to waste people’s time.”
“I don’t want to look unprofessional.”
“Nobody cares about my personal life, this is business.”
Business Isn’t Just About Business
Nobody came into the bank because they wanted to talk with me about the weather. If there were no money at the end of the interaction, they wouldn’t bother.
By the same token, nobody consumes your professional content or interacts with you because they care about whatever might be going on in your life. They are there to learn, or hire you, or get something done.
But here’s the odd thing: When you wrap that useful information inside some chatty, storytelling stuff, you make a connection that’s way stronger than the information could ever manage on its own.
People start to feel like they know you. Which is just around the corner from trusting you. Which is a stone’s throw from hiring you. Which is … you get the picture.
And there’s more going on here than just shooting the breeze. As Robert Cialdini points out in his book, Pre-Suasion, A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, “We like those who are like us.”
So when you tell a story about something that happened to you, or mention a few specifics about your life, those who share that same experience feel a bond.
It’s no different than when you meet someone who attended the same college, or has the same birthday, or is married to the same … okay, maybe not that last one. Similarities amplify connection.
Here’s the bottom line.
You are not in the business of selling idle chit chat. But idle chit chat is how selling gets done.
And while it may make little logical sense that sharing personal information in a business setting leads to more business, when it comes to humans, logic is never at the front of the line.
Hmm… maybe that psychology degree of mine has turned out to be more valuable than I realized.
- On a scale of 1- 10, how much do you love Tom Brady (Non-New Englanders, feel free to use negative numbers)?
- When was the last time you went inside a bank lobby?
- Did you own the “Thriller” album?
Share your answers below…