Native English speakers don’t really like to be silent. If you don’t talk to the person next to you, you don’t know if they are your friend or your foe. It can feel uncomfortable sharing a space with a complete stranger, especially if you have to do it for a long period of time. Instead of letting this happen, English speakers start to make small talk. That way the situation can feel more secure and you can maybe even make some new friends.
What is small talk?
Small talk consists of those short conversations you have with someone when you are first meeting or getting to know them.
- You can make small talk with your neighbors when you run into them at the grocery store.
- You can make small talk with colleagues when you run into them in the break room at work.
- You can even start conversations with strangers in the dentist’s waiting room, or with someone at a bus stop.
These conversations help to make these situations smoother and more comfortable.
What is the point?
The point of small talk is to find something in common with the other person. When you find a common ground, you are more likely to feel friendly towards a stranger or comfortable next to someone you don’t know very well. Small talk can also be the beginning of a lifelong friendship!
How do you do it?
Most people have a pretty good sense of what topics are polite or rude to talk about with strangers, coworkers and other people you are just meeting for the first time. Of course, these topics varies from culture to culture. Here are some tips for small talk in North America:
- Don’t talk about religion, politics, money or anything that might seem too personal.
For example, you wouldn’t ask a stranger why they were sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. This person probably doesn’t want to share their health problems with you!
- Do talk about the weather, a local sports team, a TV show, a nearby restaurant or you can compliment them on their beautiful handbag and ask where they got it.
Choose topics that are easy to agree with and that can grow into an interesting conversation.
- Don’t ask a series of yes/no questions. Also, yes/no questions can kill a conversation pretty quickly. See the example below.
- Do ask for more information. Ask what dishes the person would recommend at the restaurant or what restaurants that person prefers in town. Ask WH- questions (Who, what, where, when, why) that will get the person talking more with you.
- Don’t just ask questions. This is not an interview!
- Do tell a little bit of information about yourself. This let’s the other person get to know you and also helps build a better conversation.
- Do take a hint. If the person doesn’t want to talk with you, then leave them alone (politely, of course)!
A: Hi, excuse me. I am new in town and looking for a good lunch spot. Is that restaurant on the corner good?
B: Hi. Yeah, that restaurant is pretty good. … (silence)
A: Oh, ok. Thanks. … Ok, um, bye!
A: Hi, excuse me. I am new in town and looking for a good lunch spot. Is that restaurant on the corner any good or are there any better places around?
B: Hi. Yeah, that restaurant is pretty good, but I prefer that restaurant there, just across the street.
A: Oh, ok, great! I love Italian food. What do you recommend there?
B: They have a really amazing mushroom risotto. Do you like risotto?…(conversation continues)
Take a look at the video of the famous Ellen DeGeneres “pre-enacting” getting stuck in an elevator. Is she doing it right?
(Reposted from TheEllenShow Channel on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_5yKacBnjA)
What did she do wrong? Let me know in the comments below.
Questions? Let me know in the Comments Form on the side, or book a class with me to learn more about SMALL TALK in English.