Small Talk in Business Settings

Business English is not all long, technical words and corporate jargon. Whether you are looking to complete a sale or waiting for a business meeting to begin, now is the time for humor, personal conversation, and what we call "small talk."

What is small talk? Basically, small talk is a short informal conversation about a topic unlikely to cause controversy or problems among the participants. Small talk helps people enter a meeting or negotiation in a more relaxed state. It helps people in a business situation get to know each other better and feel more comfortable with each other. People make small talk about the weather, about the city they are in, about music, movies, or books, about hobbies, about pets, about restaurants, and about travel and vacations. Of course it is better to keep small talk positive. It is better to talk about the delicious dinner you had than about the waiter who spilled hot coffee on you.

OK, how do I make small talk? Making small talk (and starting a conversation) is easier than you think it is. Start by asking a question. Not just any question, but a question about a topic unlikely to offend anyone, often accompanied by a comment that explains why you are asking the question. Examples, "You look like someone who enjoys animals. Do you have any pets?" "I see you brought an umbrella. Are we expecting rain today?" "I really like the jacket you're wearing. Would you mind my asking where you bought it?" "I heard you speaking Spanish with the receptionist. What languages do you know how to speak?"

What are some questions I should avoid asking? It is not a good idea to ask about religion, politics, family or relationship status (especially of someone you are meeting for the first time), or a person's income.

Do you have any experiences with small talk you'd like to share or questions you'd like to ask? Leave them in a comment below!


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