Schmoozing has a bad rap, but done right can be a key to success in sales and in business in general.
That’s what Diana Boxer, a linguistics professor at the University of Florida, says in her new book, The Lost Art of the Good Schmooze: Building Rapport and Defusing Conflict in Everyday and Public Talk.
When people think of schmoozing, they tend to bring to mind images of sucking up or brownnosing. But the original meaning, derived from Yiddish, mean simply to “shoot the breeze,” or in American culture, engage in small talk.
Even that description diminishes the meaning, Boxer says.
“It’s not small,” she says. “Small talk greases the wheels of interaction.”
Boxer feels that the confusion about schmoozing developed as a result of how American culture evolved.
At one time, schmoozing was an important part of society. But in today’s fast-paced, wired business world, people started associating networking with schmoozing, eventually giving the term a bad connotation.
Boxer advocates cultivating schmoozing as it used to take place when people actually chatted over their fence or spent more time asking how a co-worker was doing.
Here are the basics:
- Interact with the other person.
- Become likeable.
- Get to know the person.
Once these basics are established, Boxer says you should let the customer get to know you. Then, if you’re lucky, you can make a lasting connection, she says.
“In the business sphere, it’s more than selling something,” Boxer says. “It’s about making your fellow human feel human.”
Bill Linnins, a salesman at Palm Gainesville, uses schmoozing in his auto sales. He says the first step is simply to establish rapport. If you don’t make that connection, then you won’t sell a car.
Fellow salesman Jim Williams says he strives to have the customer genuinely like him within the first five to 10 seconds.
As you schmooze and get to know a customer, make sure you don’t fake an interest in the person simply to build rapport, Boxer says. Faking inevitably leads to a bad schmooze, she says.
Some cultures inherently understand the importance of this, and of small talk in business, Boxer says. For example, the Japanese never get straight to business but first go about the tradition of catching up with each other’s lives.
Women, Boxer says, are better at schmoozing than men. Many women are good at showing empathy with their customers.
President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Boxer notes in her book, wore different pins to signal what mood she was in each day, as well as using the pins as good conversation- starters.
Boxer says Albright started wearing pins when she was working at the United Nations and Saddam Hussein called her a serpent. From then on, Albright always wore a snake pin when dealing with Iraq.
The best salespeople already know how to establish a real connection with their customers, Boxer says. But she gave some quick tips on what to avoid to stay likeable.
- Don’t talk about yourself.
- Don’t hog the conversation.
- Avoid boasting, bragging, coming on too strong, or complaining.
In the end, how you go about schmoozing depends upon who you are talking to, she says.
But whether you’re speaking to a new customer or a returning one, you must establish the connection and keep building the rapport.