Since October 2016, I’ve been running a regular Facebook Live lesson on my Facebook Page. Every Wednesdays at 3pm GMT, I tune in to Facebook for tea and Business English chat with my Facebook followers. It’s a 30-minute lesson on anything and everything to do with Business English. It’s called Wednesdays with EWAT (English with a Twist!).
This week’s topic was all about ‘small talk’. If you’re one of my subscribers, you’ll know that my book “Small Talk To Go (STTG)” is out next Wednesday. (⚡️Update: The new version of STTG is out on Friday 19 January 2018)
I used the lesson to address some of the questions and concerns some of my readers had shared with me about small talk and discuss this important area of business communication in more detail.
I was delighted by the engagement of the participants through the comments box and wanted to share this experience in this week’s post.
So, let’s start off with the first question.
Do we have to use small talk in English?
Good question. Yes, why can’t we just get down to business? Why do we have to go through what appears to be the mundane chit chat before getting to the important stuff?
Small talk is culture-specific. By that I mean, some cultures expect you to engage in small talk before talking business. The British, for example, wouldn’t dream of NOT engaging in small talk. On the other hand, my German clients have told me that small talk doesn’t come naturally to them and find it difficult. If you’re going to do business with other cultures you will need to engage in small talk at some point or risk looking rude.
Small talk is another way of getting to know your clients, colleagues, competitors and so on. It’s where you’re going to create that all-important rapport with that person. Business is people, after all, and people do business with people they like and with whom they have a good connection.
How do you develop that good feeling and connection? By finding out a little about them, what they like and dislike, what their hobbies are and their opinions on a range of subjects.
We all have egos and most of us love talking about ourselves. And there’s nothing better than having people show an interest in us, isn’t there? The more people are willing to find out something about us, the more we’re going to like them, right?
And what are they likely to find out? That despite coming from different cultures, we all have much more in common than we think. We have the same ambitions, the same interests, the same fears. That’s why small talk is so important. It brings us together and breaks down so many barriers that can exist in life and business.
The hardest part for me is I don’t always have the necessary vocabulary to participate in the small talk conversations.
Sound familiar? This is the most common concern my clients share with me about small talk.
You have the business language and vocabulary to “talk shop” (business) but anything outside the topic you’re lost for words.
This has always intrigued me. Doesn’t it depend on what you’d like to talk about?
Let me explain. You may want to talk about the latest film you saw at the cinema or the latest art exhibition you attended. What you can do is to look up the vocabulary around the topics you’re interested in. Try and read about your hobbies and interests in English and make notes of key phrases you want to remember and re-use.
The next step is to take control of the conversation and steer it yourself. Rather than wait for someone to initiate the conversation, why not start it yourself? Contrary to what many people think, initiating a conversation will give you the confidence you need because you’re in control. You’ve decided the topic and you’ve chosen a topic you feel comfortable and confident discussing because you have the vocabulary.
What topics should I begin with…the weather is a bit boring.
Talking about the weather IS boring unless you’re in the middle of a snowstorm when the chances are you’ll want to talk about how you’re going to get home, whether you’ve ever experienced such atrocious weather conditions, or how you hate the cold and would much prefer to be on a beach somewhere sipping a margarita or a mojito.
I find talking about football (or sports) boring so I try to avoid it. However, if I find myself in the middle of such a conversation I simply smile and nod like I know what everyone is talking about! Then I’ll try to find an excuse to walk away…… (This is also something readers have asked about and it’s covered in my book)
My point is the choice of topic is often dictated by the situation you’ll find yourself in. For example, if you arrive for a business lunch meeting, the conversation could start off with discussing the menu. This is one of the scenarios I share in the book on how you can start and end that conversation.
The conversation can lead to other topics and during the live lesson the subject of sensitive topics came up. One participant said: “Don’t talk about financial issues with a Greek!”. And that’s true. We’re all adults and need to judge when to raise certain topics. For example, I am 100% against Brexit but when I am in a group of pro-Brexiters, I have to choose if I want to have a heated argument or keep the peace. Certainly, if it’s with people I don’t know, I choose to keep my thoughts to myself and simply smile.
For more information about taboo and non-taboo subjects, take a look at this post my fellow trainer Phil Wade wrote for this blog.
These were some of the questions I covered in the lesson.
Two other statements/questions I received were:
- In a conference where it can be noisy, I do not understand the mother-tongue speakers, so I don’t participate.
- What is the best way to excuse myself from a conversation?
I have addressed those issues in the scenarios I’ve created for my book. The noisy environment is a classic situation and one which I sympathise with. The older I get the harder it is for me to follow conversations in loud places and I try and avoid them. However, where I cannot avoid them, I have to find ways to continue chatting. I share the tactics you can use to get over those moments.
Similarly, excusing yourself politely from a conversation is important and I’ve shared plenty of examples in the book.
If you get a chance, I’d love to know what you think of the live lesson. It’s 60 minutes long so grab a cup of tea/coffee( and a biscuit or two) before watching it. And if you like what you see, why not join my lessons every Wednesdays at 3pm GMT. I’d love to see you there.
If you liked this post, please share it.
Ciao for now
PS: Thank you to Elizabeth (I don’t know your last name, sorry) for sharing your learners’ questions with me.
The new version of Small Talk To Go (STTG) is out on 19 January 2018.
This new version includes an ebook + workbook AND audiobook to allow you to hear those important conversations.
To be sure to get your copy of STTG 2018 as soon as it hits the EWAT e-store, join the EWAT community today (see below).