Small talk is a friendly and short conversation on a common topic between people who don’t know each other very well. It helps us talk to strangers, connect with them. Small talk is always light and informal. In our daily lives, we all indulge in these informal conversations because it helps us appear friendly and approachable.
We have these light conversations with a co-worker we don’t know that well, receptionists, hairdressers, waitresses, and even with people we don’t know at all. Small talk in business is also very important. It is the first step in establishing a relationship, which will eventually help us in networking.
Why Is Small Talk Important In Business?
Small talk is vital in building business relationships. In recent years, the business culture has shifted towards human connections, which is why you will find businesses having PR divisions and trying to connect with the outside world through social media. However, we still are not able to trust those we don’t know very well.
It will build trust and develop human one-on-one connect. In business, we will often have to co-operate and work together. We may have to see the other person’s perspective to negotiate a deal that will be better for everyone. Trust is essential. In fact, there will be no business if there is no trust and mutual respect. Small talk will go miles to achieving this, which is why it is so important in business deals.
Business small talk refers to the light conversations we have in a business setting. They can fill the empty moments just before a meeting. It can be different than the casual conversations you have with others because there can be an agenda behind the talk. It could be about finding out more about the client, networking, trying to find a common space where you can work. This is why the importance of small talk in business is paramount.
In the business setting, you can even prepare yourself before attending the meeting. For instance, you can find out who is going to attend the event. You can know more about them by researching on LinkedIn. This will help you plan the topics for conversations based on hobbies or interests. Small talks on interesting topics are good conversation starters.
How to Do Small Talk in Business?
Just before the meeting, during the break, or even after the meeting is over, you can have a light conversation on a neutral topic. It can be on the traffic condition, weather, an interesting national news, plans for the weekend, or sports. You will still be able to find things to talk about even if you don’t watch popular television programs or follow sports. There are many other topics to talk about.
Let us assume that there is a break in the meeting. Someone asks you whether you saw a sports event on a program on television. Your conversation will be over if you simply say “No”.
Ask a question instead that shows your interest.
- I haven’t seen it. What is this program about?
- I do not follow basketball. Do you play the sport?
They are both excellent conversation starters. They show that you are interested and do really care about the other person’s interest, which helps us build friendship and trust.
Here’s another example of how small talk can bridge the gap and establish a good working relationship. Let us assume someone asks you whether you were stuck in traffic. Instead of just saying “No”, you can say, “I live just 5 minutes from this place? The other person says, “Wow, you are lucky”. Then the two of you can pick it up from there.
In short, to make small talk in business, you have to make the extra effort. This will help you in getting past the initial barriers.
Small talk can even broaden your horizon and help you keep up with the news, including online events on art and culture. It can be beneficial in every setting.
Topics for Small Talk in Business
Choosing the right topic is always very important. It will be awkward if you make a mistake here. Ideally, you want to keep it light-hearted while trying to find a common ground. Sports, television, and weather are often the best conversation starters. They are usually safe and interesting topics.
Is it ok to talk about politics and health during the small talk in a business meeting? That depends. For example, in France, it is common to talk about politics. In other countries, however, politics may not be ideal. In Italy and Spain, sport is always a hit and in Britain, any discussion about the weather is always a popular subject. In Russia, these can all be trivial topics. Many Russians like to have a more detailed discussion.
Play it safe. It’s best that you pick from the following topic ideas:
- Your commute
- Your surroundings
- Local festivals
- Local customs
Here are some ways of starting a conversation:
- Have you heard/seen _________?
- Do you like _______________?
- Have you ever been to _______
- I really loved __________
- What/who is your favorite __________?
- What do you think of ___________?
Topics to Avoid in Business Small Talk
Try to avoid topics that may polarize people, such as religion, politics, and race. Politics and religion can lead to an argument when the other person disagrees with you. In business communication, you don’t want any controversy. Sexual topics may make the person feel uncomfortable – so avoid them as well. Also, avoid making any personal observations on mannerisms, hair styles, clothing, weight, and skin color. Also, it is best not to discuss money.
Can you crack jokes when you are indulging in small talk? Some jokes are okay, provided they are inoffensive and clean. Avoid telling the ones that can potentially be offensive, involving violence, racism, sexism, and other inappropriate topics.
Small talk will help you break the ice and move forward. But you have to be careful. Pick the topic wisely and tread carefully.