How many times have you found yourself talking about topics you’re not in the least bit interested in or have discussed ad nauseam?
(⚡if you talk about something “ad nauseum”, it means you’ve talked about it so much that it becomes super boring and you’re sick of it)
You know what I mean, right? That slow trip up the lift (or elevator) with a colleague you don’t really know; that coffee chat with an acquaintance at a conference or that chat with the personal assistant as you wait to have a business meeting with their boss.
How can you ‘spice things up’? In other words, how can you make these small talk exchanges far more interesting and consequently easier?
How about asking thought-provoking questions?
Listen to the post
This idea came to me as I was looking for inspiration for this post. I came across this article in which the author shares 48 thought-provoking questions you could ask that are different and would pleasantly surprise the other person (interlocutor). I thought it was such an excellent idea and felt compelled to share some of the author’s questions with you.
I love the questions she chose because they’re different and at the same time not difficult for Business English learners like yourself. Plus the questions would encourage a truly meaningful conversation that could go beyond small talk.
They are divided into sub- topics like work, entertainment, life story and so on. I thought they’d be an excellent addition to the repertoire of questions you could ask next time you feel like varying your topic of conversation.
I am sharing a selection of the questions I would ask. If you want to see the full list of questions, you can read the article here.
Not all the questions apply to every situation and of course, you need to feel comfortable asking the questions, and you need to judge the appropriateness of the question based on the person you’re talking to and the culture they belong to (some questions are not welcomed in certain cultures so you need to be sensitive to that.)
- If you weren’t working here, what would you probably be doing now?
- How did you become a [job title]?
- Would you rather work four 10-hour days or five eight-hour days?
- What was your first job? Did you like it?
- What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? How about the worst?
- Are you reading any good books right now? I’d love some recommendations.
- Are there any apps on your phone that you can’t live without?
- If you could only watch one genre of films for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- What’s a book you hated that everyone else loved, and vice versa?
- Do you have any podcast suggestions for my commute?
- What’s the last movie that made you cry? Or laugh aloud?
- If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
- What’s your go-to comfort food?
- Are there any foods that you absolutely would not eat?
- What are the best cheap eats (places to eat) around here?
(⚡”eats” is used as a noun here and it means small amount of food. In this context, ‘cheap eats’ refers to places where you can have a small, quick meal.)
- What’s your favourite restaurant that other people don’t know about?
- What’s the best “hidden gem” around here?
(⚡ something very good that not many people know about. Gem means a jewel.)
- If you could fly anywhere for free, where would you go?
- Where’s the last place you travelled? What did you do there?
- Do you prefer action-packed holidays or relaxing on the beach?
- What’s the next trip you have planned?
- If you could take a sabbatical, where would you go and what would you do?
- Where did you live before this? What are the biggest differences you see?
- What did you think you were going to be growing up?
- Do you have any hidden talents or surprising hobbies?
- What’s the most unbelievable thing that’s ever happened to you?
- Who’s the most important role model or mentor you’ve had in your life?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Which of the above questions can you see yourself asking? Would YOU be comfortable answering them? What other thought-provoking questions would you ask? I’d really love to know because you may just give me more ideas.
Language Practice tip
One way of feeling comfortable asking these questions is to answer them yourself. Here’s what you could do.
- Pick the questions you like;
- Take a few minutes to think about each question and how you would answer it;
- Then create a written outline of your answer. If you don’t know the words or phrases, this is a good time to research the language you’ll need;
- Practise giving your answer out loud;
- Record yourself and play the recording back to hear how you sound.
Try it and don’t forget to share how the experiment went with me and your fellow EWATers
Next week, we’ll be looking at some don’ts of small talk. If you want the post delivered automatically to your inbox, make sure you join the EWAT community today.
Thanks for reading and listening.
Ciao for now
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The e-book and audiobook gives you the ideal opportunity to then put what you’ve learned in practice using the same method I’ve highlighted in today’s Language Practice Tip.
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