I have to admit it. I’m not a big fan of “small talk.”
Why bother? For a lot of my clients (and sometimes for me too), small talk feels like a waste of time. You talk about subjects that aren’t extremely passionate: the weather, your weekend, the other person’s recent project.
You have to make the effort to have a conversation, in English, with someone you don’t know very well.
You don’t know if the conversation is going to become interesting or if you’re just going to waste your time.
You feel slow as you search for your words and hesitate. In fact, that’s why, I hand-picked my best small talk videos for you, English with a Twister!
You can click here to get immediate access to my Top 10 Small Talk Videos, and get more vocabulary and grammar, to make small talk easier.
Play the small talk game to succeed in business
Just to tell you something about me: I’m American, but I speak French as a second language.
In English, I have no problem starting and continuing a small talk conversation. I don’t have to think about my words. I don’t worry that I won’t understand the other person. In my second language, it’s a different story. It’s not always fun, but it’s easy.
In your second language, however, it’s not always easy to start a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know. For example, if I’m traveling to meet a client somewhere in France, I’ll probably want to make small talk with the receptionist, or with my client’s assistant, or maybe with my client before we start discussing business.
I often feel awkward as I try to find the right thing to say to start or continue the conversation, but I make the effort.
Because small talk plays a big role in our professional lives. In fact, small talk can determine if you sign the contract or not.
Anything can happen in small talk, especially good things
Especially with American colleagues, if you want to advance, make connections, and be seen as a “nice person” you have to make small talk.
Anything can happen in a small talk conversation. It’s how you build relationships. It’s how you discover opportunities. It’s how we do business.
Plus, it’s easier to work with someone we like, someone we discuss our weekend, our family life with. Or just talk about the weather.
According to this article published in Financial Times, “If you don’t talk, people don’t like you much.” Ouch. It’s painful to admit, but it’s true.
If you still think “Why bother with small talk? It’s superficial. It’s a waste of time. I don’t feel comfortable making small talk in English”,” it’s time to conquer your fear.
Improve your small talk skills, improve your business. Why?
#1 Because you don’t know where the conversation will go
Small talk is a free path. The subjects are not imposed, like in a meeting. There are no high risks, except maybe feeling like you don’t have enough English vocabulary.
But other than that, small talk can have lots of benefits. Maybe it’s just a friendly conversation, but it can lead to future business contracts, partnerships, or more. You have to start on the the path to reach the destination.
#2 Because it improves your English
“I don’t have anyone to practice with” is a complaint I hear regularly from my clients. When you have a foreign visitor at your company, seize the opportunity! In the coffee room, at the company cafeteria, during a visit of the city…these are all perfect opportunities you can take!
Yes, you will lack words sometimes. Yes, you will hesitate to find your phrases. Yes, your structures will be incorrect sometimes. Don’t worry. Just talk!
Speaking English is like doing sport. If you don’t do it regularly, you’ll never progress. Use small talk as speaking practice!
#3 Because it’s nice
Sometimes, it’s true that small talk can be more tiring than pleasant. But isn’t it also nice to talk about your life, your weekend, a recent personal project you’re proud of? It’s especially nice to exchange with someone from a different country or culture.
We humans are social animals. We want to create connections with others. Why do you think social media is so popular today? Because being social feels good.
#4 Because it makes you a nice person
For Americans, small talk is almost like a Darwinist survival mechanism. We like to think our colleagues appreciate us for your professional competencies, but that’s not totally true.
When we have the choice, we often prefer to work with people we like, but who are less competent. Not many people like working with a genius who is unpleasant, rude, and isolated. Listening is a big part of small talk. We like people who listen to us.
When you listen to others, you show respect, you give them your time and your attention. And people will see you as a nice person for it.
#5 Because you’ll learn something
When you make small talk with foreigners, you learn a lot about their country, their culture, their cuisine, their way of thinking, how they see your country and culture. The list is endless.
Even if the conversation is not directly on topics like cultural differences, talking to someone with a different experience of life is always enriching.
#6 Because you don’t have the choice
English is the language of international teams. To work together, we have to communicate.
To be efficient, we have to feel like a team, not just a group of people who work together. To advance, we have to create connections with our teammates.
In the USA, it’s important to think and act quickly. This is a value we look for in team members. In small talk, we show that we “play well with others” and that we are truly part of the team.
Business schools don’t often teach small talk, but it’s a skill that’s as important as data analysis or accounting.
Ready to start feeling comfortable in small talk conversations in English?
An American living in France since 2004, Christina coaches clients to better communicate in English through face-to-face and distance training programs. With her YouTube channel Speak English with Christina, she is on a mission to make it fun and easy to become fluent in American English.