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The Albaquerque Tribune, – December 1, 2005

When You Hear The Jingle It’s Time To Mingle – By Gilbert Chan
Copyright 2005 The Albaquerque Tribune

In the business world, the season of giving should actually be called the season of mingling.

With the holidays already upon us, corporate parties and open houses are going into full swing – not to mention a menu of business mixers, fund-raising galas and other meet-and-greet get-togethers.

The season to mingle also brings high anxiety for the reticent revelers out there. There are choices, though. You could:

(A) Go to the holiday office party and network in the hope of building your career.

(B) Curl up in your favorite chair with a good book.

(C) Rent a movie and view it with your family.

(D) Do anything other than spend an evening making small talk with clients, managers or co-workers whose names you never quite remembered.

If (D) is looking like the right choice, you’re not alone. The fears of public speaking and conversation rank as the top two social phobias, according to experts. By the way, even the boss may be feeling a little inept.

“We fear rejection. It is a risk,” said Debra Fine, a former civil engineer and guru on the art of small talk. But “it’s riskier to get on an airplane than going to a holiday party.”

Take a cue from Fine and other experts: Go to the party. Practice makes perfect when it comes to small talk, she said, and a little research doesn’t hurt, either.

Think about two or three things to bring up and learn about the hosts or bosses, Fine advised. If necessary, force yourself to “fake it” and pretend to be confident and self-assured. Soon, the real fears will vanish.

Social introverts and shy types can be perceived as aloof or cliquish when they stand off by the buffet table, sit alone at the table or stick to a small group of colleagues.

Social events are not about “me,” explained Robert Scherer, owner of Robert M. Scherer & Associates, franchise owner of the Dale Carnegie Training program for the Sacramento, Calif., region. “It’s about meeting other people. It’s about having a good time.”

He prescribes a “75-25” rule: Talk about yourself a quarter of the time and ask questions and learn about others 75 percent of the conversation.

As a guide, politics, religion and sexual issues are delicate topics and usually no-nos. “Not everyone is open to personal things.”

Focus on the person you’re talking with rather than surveying the room for someone else.

In today’s business world, relationships mean everything, Fine said, and those relationships start with small talk.

“Every conversation in business settings are opportunities,” said Fine, the author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk.” “They’re opportunities for new business, promotions or even new careers.”

Fine doesn’t equate small talk with schmoozing or networking – where sharklike opportunists thrust business cards in your face or unleash a series of probing CIA-like questions to mine future business.

“You’ve got to be sincere. You have to find a way to be yourself,” Fine said. “You have to be sincerely interested in someone.”

Take courage. The boss may be feeling just as uncomfortable as you are.

Scherer recalled a managing partner at an accounting firm who once confided that he felt uneasy socializing and recruiting new clients – his No. 1 task as the head of the practice.

“A lot of business (owners) feel uncomfortable walking into a room with a lot of people they don’t know,” Scherer said. “People like to feel secure and comfortable. It’s easiest to operate within our comfort zone.”

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

Copyright 2005, The Albuquerque Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

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