How To Unfreeze Your English and Sparkle during Small Talk.
You’re by nature a sociable person. You enjoy meeting new clients/colleagues and look forward to the social interaction between your business meetings.
You’re curious to find out about them, their interests, their culture and so on. You love sharing your passions and your culture with them. To give them a ‘sneak peek’ of your world.
The conversation is often easy and relaxed. It makes work so much more pleasurable.
But in English, your brain freezes. Your ‘English’ brain tells you that you can’t do this. You don’t have the words. Your grammar is full of mistakes. They won’t understand your accent or pronunciation.
So you stay silent.
But all the time you stay silent, you fear that your colleagues won’t see the ‘real’ you. The person beyond your professional image. The person bursting to share who they are. The person who sparkles in the company of colleagues.
You decide to fix this problem.
○ You enrol in English conversation classes or online fluency programmes.
○ You watch YouTube videos showing you how to talk about food, sport, travel and so on.
○ You complete vocabulary sheets on small talk.
○ You search for blogs on how to engage in business small talk in English.
You do all this in the hope that somehow all this new vocabulary will give you the confidence to approach your colleagues/clients during that coffee break, over lunch or after-work drinks and ignite a conversation.
But it doesn’t seem to work. You still stumble over your words. You still wrack your brains trying to think of something ‘clever’ to say.
What’s going on?
Here’s what’s going on.
You mistakenly believe that your words are the only thing that creates human connections. That your words are the only thing that unlocks your radiant personality.
You forget you are much more than your words.
You are your curiosity, your enthusiasm, your smile, your open body language, your life experiences, your passions. All these ingredients make up who you are. All these ingredients are what connect us to others.
In your first language, you naturally use all these ingredients to forge valuable connections and reveal your warm personality.
Don’t believe me?
Take a step back and reflect on these 3 things.
○ What motivates you to approach your visiting colleague after a meeting? Your friendliness? Your natural curiosity? Your welcoming nature?
○ What do you bring to the conversation first? Your smile? Your open body language? Your laughter?
○ How much of the interaction hinges on your words?
If you examine closely, you’ll find that your non-verbal language dominates. That warm handshake, that winning smile that rises to your eyes, that welcoming look, that listening ear.
But in English, you forget all that. In English, you rely on one ingredient – your words. You lead with your words. You rely only on your words to communicate.
If your words fail you, you become a paralysed robot. Your personality retreats never to be seen again.
You feel disconnected.
All is not lost. There is a reboot button. Two, actually.
2 effective reboot buttons that will reconnect you and bring back your sparkling personality.
Reboot Button 1: Switch off your English brain and re-activate your first language brain.
Now reflect on what you normally do when you engage in small talk in your first language.
Follow these 7 reflection prompts.
#1: What’s the first thing you like to know about a person? Why?
#2: How do you encourage them to interact with you? What do you do?
#3: How do you show your personality? What’s your body language? What’s your facial expression? If you’re not sure, ask your family or friends.
#4: How do you invite them to share something about themselves? Do you share something about yourself first? Or do you ask them and listen first?
#5: How do you show you’re interested in them? Ask questions, share a similar story?
#6: How much do you let them speak? How well do you listen?
#7: How do you make the person feel? If you’re not sure, ask your friends how you made them feel when they first met you. That will give you an insight into how others see you.
Now think about the language you use.
○ How much of your interaction relies on your words? 80%? 20%?
○ How much of the language you use is complex?
○ How much of it is culture-specific?
○ How do you adapt your language to the person? For example, if you’re asking about something unfamiliar to them, how do you rephrase?
○ How many words do you use to show that you care about the other person? That you care enough to learn from them? To listen to them? (Clue: Not many)
Reboot Button 2: Apply and Observe
Switch your English brain back on.
Putting aside the jokes and culture-specific references, think about how you could use your English brain to apply your answers to the 7 prompts above with the English you already have.
Most importantly, ask yourself this question again:
“How many English words do I need to show that I care about the other person? That I care enough to learn from them? To listen to them?
Then ask yourself: ‘Do I already have all the words I need?”
I bet the answer is yes.
Go out there, test your findings and observe what happens.
The wonderful thing about human connections is that they need less speaking (fewer words) and more listening.
Trust your curiosity, your passion, your zest for life, your warmth and your thirst for learning to guide you. To listen.
The words will follow.