Building your Small Talk Skills

You must have come across the popular term, “American Small Talk” and probably wonder about the American habit and skill of small talk. Is it challenging for non-Americans? We notice that many cultures find it important to build a solid connection before initiating any sort of business together, however the approach in the US is slightly different. Even though, professionals in the US like to get straight down to business, the initial small step of small talk is necessary to build those connections quickly. Small talk is a great way to initiate a conversation with a complete stranger, find a common interest, and create a rapport.

While networking and searching for a job in the U.S., it is important to be able to make effective small talk and interact with other people. Casual conversations may not be necessary in other cultures but is a key component of communication in the U.S. You may be seen as arrogant and lose out on building a connection if you fail to engage. Americans dislike silence so they break the ice by talking about generic topics. Small talk may seem superficial at first but is crucial in order to make and maintain healthy relationships at work or with prospective employers and co-workers.

Three points to keep in mind while initiating small talk:
1. Observe
2. Listen
3. Speak

First, start observing how people around you engage in small talk. The best learning happens through practice and you might get helpful cues on what to talk about by observing others. Secondly, it is vital to listen attentively during the talk as it will help you take the conversation further by asking relevant questions. While you speak, try and give crisp answers which are not very long but also not too short like “yes” or “no”. It will help you to gravitate the conversation quickly towards the main topic. Sense the other person’s body language to see if they are interested in talking further. Close observation is necessary and should not be undermined to make your small talk a pleasant experience.

Cultures are different everywhere. The topics on which small talk can be done differ based on the culture. There are various topics that you can use to engage in small talk in US. Topics include: Weather, Travel, Traffic, Movies, Music, Books, Food, Fashion, Entertainment, Sports and Current news. Based on the topics above, you can create your own list depending on your areas of interest and the type of people you are dealing with. Keeping abreast of recent happenings and surroundings through newspapers and magazines, not only help your brain feed important information but also make you well informed and popular among your peers, social circles as you will have a wider range of subjects to discuss. Topics that should be avoided are politics, religion and social beliefs.

The few questions that could give you a head start are: “It’s such a great/bad weather today, isn’t it?”, “What are your weekend plans?”, “How is work?”, “I like your t-shirt/watch/ring, where did you get it?” Asking the other person questions about him/her is also a great way to engage in small talk and get to know a lot more about the other person. People love talking about themselves, their experiences and it makes the conversation much more interesting. Try and avoid personal questions.

If you’re a beginner, still unconfident about engaging in small talk and would like to learn more, let me assure you that it’s easy! You do not need to attend huge networking events, instead try and adapt it in your daily life. For example, start to talk with the cashier at the local grocery store or the waitress at your favorite restaurant about basic everyday events such as the weather, a new bar in town, a concert or the traffic. You will be surprised how simple it is. Gradually, you will improve and become comfortable in engaging small talk with other people you intend to network with at a professional level.

Good luck and please email us if you have any questions!

6 comments for “Building your Small Talk Skills

  1. Mansi jindal
    June 18, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Small talk is always useful for gathering information about another person. That first meeting is when we learn the other person’s name, profession, marital status, interests, geographical location, and whether he or she has any children. These types of talk always improve your mental function.
    Great topic !
    very useful information

  2. Min
    June 18, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks! It is a great idea for daily practice, a small talk with my cashier. I want to try it right now:)

  3. June 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks Mansi for your inputs. However we would suggest refraining from asking about marital status and children in the first meeting with anyone in US.

  4. Nidhi Mittal
    June 19, 2013 at 1:09 am

    Great information!

  5. July 12, 2013 at 4:08 am

    This is a great post. I love hearing about the ways American culture differs with other cultures. I never would have expected that small talk is an American thing!

    • July 13, 2013 at 4:23 am

      Glad you liked the post, Monique! You know it took me almost an year to perfect this “American” small talk. :)
      -Shruti

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