You are good at making small talk. You know how to work a room and get people talking. But every so often, something happens – the mood changes and you wonder “What did I do wrong?” Here are eight mistakes to avoid in social situations.
1. Moving too quickly. You mention you are an insurance professional. From their reaction, you assume they are fascinated. You start talking about business. You ask questions about the insurance they carry and who is their agent. They start to back away.
Why: You are being pushy. It makes people uncomfortable. Of course, you would never do that.
2. Cozying up to people. You stand very close. You put your arm around the other guy’s shoulder. You are a back slapper.
Why: In Western cultures, personal space extends about 18 to 36 inches. Put another way, if you are standing closer than 18 inches, people start to feel uncomfortable. Touching raises the uncomfortable factor to a much higher level.
3. Addressing needs before they are revealed. You meet an 80-year-old business owner. They mention their children are both doctors on the coast. You immediately bring up succession planning, because it must be a big concern for them. You suggest lunch on Tuesday.
Why: People need to share issues in their own time. When you make assumptions, you come across as being pushy. As a bank president told me: “The guy wanted to have lunch to address my needs. How can he address my needs if I haven’t told him what they are?
4. No eye contact. You’ve known about this one for years. It suggests dishonesty. The other extreme, locking eyes to determine who will look away first isn’t the answer either.
Why: Although it might just be the other person is shy, avoiding eye contact is considered a red flag. Something is wrong.
5. Distracted conversation. This is a close cousin of no eye contact. You are talking with someone, yet looking over their shoulder. It implies you aren’t giving them your full attention or worse, you are looking to see if someone more important has entered the room.
Why: The message is “I’m just killing time talking with you.”
6. Being self-involved. Have you ever seen those people who love talking about themselves? They name drop. They tell you about their big house, expensive car and incredibly intelligent children. It’s all about them.
Why: Talking to a self-centered person is boring. You can’t get a word in.
7. Bad personal habits. You have little quirks you think no one notices. Maybe it’s bad breath. They notice. From another perspective, if you look like you slept in your clothing, it implies you don’t take pride in your personal appearance.
Why: Because you don’t make an effort, it implies you don’t belong in this group.
8. Poor table manners. You’ve heard the expression “Know how to behave in polite society.” It means you shouldn’t wolf down your food, hold your knife and fork like gardening tools or return from the buffet with food piled so high, it’s falling off.
Why: People with money were often “raised right” by their parents. Regardless of your financial situation, if you don’t have manners, it implies “you weren’t taught.” It creates distance.
It’s highly unlikely you would make any of these mistakes. Still, sometimes we need a gentle reminder.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” can be found on Amazon.