The fine art of schmoozing

13 Jul 2010

Learning how to master the art of schmoozing can help you bring value to the workplace in terms of communication and in raising team morale.

What do you think of when you hear the word schmoozer? Someone who talks a lot, works a little, and generally seems to know what to say to the right people – ie the bosses? Well, this may be the stereotypical idea of a schmoozer, but it is not ‘good’ schmoozing, according to Terry Prone, director of the Communications Clinic in Dublin.

“Talking a lot is not good; in fact, good schmoozing actually involves listening a lot, and remembering what people say to you,” she says.

Prone’s ideas on positive schmoozing match up with that of US writer and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, who has written on ‘the art of schmoozing’. “The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot; it is that you can get others to talk a lot,” he says. “Ironically, you’ll be remembered as an interesting person.”

Prone’s definition of good schmoozing [from the Yiddish ‘shmuesn’] tallies with its original meaning in American English, where it meant to shoot the breeze or pass the time chatting.  “Good schmoozers are happy to be in the working environment and they often help elevate others with their outgoing personality,” she says.

Kawasaki agrees: “Darcy Rezac, in his book The Frog and the Prince, wrote the world’s best definition of schmoozing: ‘Discovering what you can do for someone else.’ Herein lies 80pc of the battle: great schmoozers want to know what they can do for [others], not what the [others] can do for them. If you understand this, the rest is just mechanics.”

Prone points out that employees who think they should “cut themselves off in a corner and act far too busy to be nice” are misunderstanding the dynamics of office politics and human relations. “In fact, bosses are human and love people who are a bit of fun and like to do a bit of schmoozing,” she says.

Prone adds a caveat, however, saying she is very wary of people who ‘lick up’ to the boss, but who aren’t nice to staff members on their own level.

“Usually employers are very quick to pick up on that kind of behaviour,” she says. “When they mention that X is a really great guy or girl, they’ll be faced with long silences from their employees, and will quickly figure out the truth. It’s not really something you can get away with.”

One thing all experts seem to agree on is that employees should avoid gratuitous flattery that comes across as sleazy rather than honest. “Flattery needs to be genuine, personal, unique and observant,” Prone says.

Ultimately, she believes a bit of schmoozing is “the oil in the wheels of the workplace machine” ie something that is necessary and helps business progress. “It’s fun, and it makes the workplace an easier place to be. A person who is good at it can raise morale and spirits in the office the minute he or she walks in the door.”

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