Are you frustrated with the interactions with your US client or colleague?
Do you sit in your team in India and wonder why, though you have worked for months or even years with your US counterpart that you still can’t seem to break through and handle the challenging conversations?
Do you feel frustrated that while you have 8-15 years experience in the field, your manager has to be called in to handle a wide range of conversations on your behalf?
Do you wish you had the magic potion to create better client relationships?
Are you making small talk? Did you know that there are many types of small talk that can be applied to business conversations with US clients?
Are you stuck as to where to start because your client doesn’t make small talk- or he or she doesn’t make small talk with you?
Have you ever wondered….
When your client thinks about you, how would you like to be remembered?
Would you like your client to think of you as a person who just gets to the point and has no soft side or a person who can be personable, friendly and be comfortable with a bit of casualness?
Most Indians I have trained who I have asked this question to prefer to be remembered [in business] as a person who not only gets the job done and done right, but a person who is friendly, understanding, considerate, and thoughtful of others.
So, if this is how you want to be remembered, especially by your US clients or counterparts who you work with virtually, what can you do to create this feeling and impression?
In many cases, something as small as “small talk” which really is not so small becomes an easy way to set that tone. Even starting the call or ending the call with a smile (we can hear a smile!) can also go along way to create that impression.
If thinking about it from a business angle may not convince you, think of it from a personal angle.
What if you had a friend who always came to your house or called you but only asked you for stuff or updates on what they wanted you to do for them?
What if they only stopped by to borrow something from you, ask you for your advice or made you feel you had to give them all the answers, yet that friend really did not share any of themselves in return?
How would you feel if that friend created a one way relationship?
Would it be something you looked forward to? How would you feel when you would have to meet that person everyday? Would you define that interaction as a friendship? Why or why not?
I have had ‘friends’ like that in the past. Speaking for myself, it felt odd. After sometime I felt that this person is not my friend. And, soon every interaction would feel strained. But, talking with this person about difficult topics or disagreements would not be easy because I would feel we don’t really know each other (from personal experiences, I can say this is exactly how I felt).
In fact, any situation which felt even remotely challenging would be completely avoided due to the fear of confrontation of any kind. So, even the smallest ‘non-issues’ would, over time, become big problems that would seem unsolvable or would need help or intervention from a third party.
These types of interactions were never looked forward to, and typically caused a lot of stress.
While your interactions with your US clients may not have gotten to this level, many I have coached have faced some level of this kind of feeling due to some of the cultural, communication and other misunderstandings that have come up.
And, while personal relationships, some argue, are different than business relationships, the basic fact remains, they are both human relationships.
So, what actually constitutes a good ‘working relationship?’
Is a good working relationship one where you log onto the bridge only to hear what the client has to say? Or is it one where you hope the client respects and interacts with you as an equal, a respected authority in your field? I hope the latter. That’s why I am here to help you with not only building the relationship with your US client but defining what for you constitutes an ideal working relationship. And, if you, sitting in India (or anywhere offshore) think, “Well, my client has not tried to make that warm relationship with me, why should I? Or, how could I?” That’s where I step in to help.
If you are a service provider on a development team in India, you are the trusted authority. The client in the USA expects you to drive the meeting, which includes setting the tone for the relationship.
With many we have coached where the US client doesn’t make small talk, we have found that once the Indian team lead or team members started (sometimes slowly) adding in small talk to conversations (both written and spoken), in as little as a month, we see even the most seemingly cold shouldered US client warming up and also making small talk.
This not only in turn helps the team in India to work more effectively with the US client, but helps all kinds of conversations become more friendly, even those where saying no or pushing back is required.
I feel a little small talk can go along way to setting a friendly tone. I had a client once who was assigned to me by the manager to learn how to make small talk in emails and phone calls. My client said, “I don’t know why I was asked to improve this when my client doesn’t make small talk with me. Should I really do it?”
Then, in the coaching conversation, I asked two questions:
In this case, my client said, “I don’t make small talk because I am afraid I may ask the wrong question and offend the client. I also feel that if he starts asking me stuff about the US culture, I won’t know what to say. I don’t want to have the wrong answer. I don’t think it hurts to try, but my client is very business minded. My American client also doesn’t make small talk.”
“Fair enough,” I said, “What about if we discuss some dos and don’ts of professional small talk, and you try it?”
Since my client was bound to do some sessions with me, this was our mutual coaching agreement.
After several sessions on dos and don’ts with practice, I left it to the client for two months to try it on their own. In the three-month follow up, when I asked how it was going, my client said:
“Wow it’s going great! I feel so much more relaxed with my client. It’s like we can have conversations about work, even stressful stuff. I feel so much more at ease. We understand each other better.”
So, what did my client do differently? My client only spent two minutes in the beginning and end of each call making small talk – for a grand total of not more than 5 minutes! When I asked how it went, my client said:
Well, at first I was nervous to make small talk because my client never did it. I just asked a few simple questions like “How are you today?”, “How was the commute?” or “How was your weekend?” or “How’s your morning?” depending on when I called and the day of the week or time of day. To end the call, I just would say, “Have a nice day.” or “Have a nice weekend.” If I got brave, I’d ask, “So any plans this weekend?” At first she was shy to talk back. I was shocked as she’s older than me, and English is her only language. But, she did make small talk with me. It set a happier tone for the call. We smiled more.
So, I asked my client, “What do you think about this experience? How do you feel?” My client responded by saying,
Well, I actually am nervous to say this but I think my client was just as nervous as I was to make small talk! Maybe she could have been worried to say the wrong thing just like me, though she’s older than me! It wasn’t easy for me to break the ice, but I am so glad I did. That little bit makes such a big change! I am shocked but happy. Thank you!
After this interaction, my client’s customer satisfaction scores improved and my client was able to take on more challenging client roles.
Jennifer Kumar provides cross-cultural business communication and business coaching for global, dispersed teams. Learn more about individual coaching or classroom programs on small talk and meeting management with US counterparts.
Contact Jennifer to learn how she can help your team work with more relatability across cultures.
Common Questions to Start Small Talk Conversations
Gap Analysis For Coaching Clients
Speaking Clearly on the Phone
Updated: April. 2019, July 2020
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