Small Talk – the fine art of chatting

INSIGHTS-Pape Consulting Group AG

Small Talk – the fine art of chatting

Whether in the elevator, in the canteen, in an interview or when visiting a customer: small talk is part of everyday life. Everyone should be able to approach other people, talk and chat with them. This is the only way to belong and the only way to be perceived. Someone who says nothing is out, has no opinion, does not attract attention, is not exciting and you don’t remember him.

The silent man remains silent and quietly sidelined and above all signals disinterest in his counterpart and his environment, which does not help him to move up in the world.

Relationships with colleagues, customers and everyone else for that matter, can only be established through active communication. Having “Small Talk competence” will always help your career – especially in times of WhatsApp and social media, where the written text is becoming more important than the spoken word. This tempts to neglect interpersonal relationships, and emoticons don’t help either. The trend is deceptive, although the smartphone generation may find it convenient to send a text message rather than having a personal small talk – at the latest in an elevator it becomes difficult to “like” the person instead of speaking to them.

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Small Talk = Smart Talk

“ You cannot not communicate“ … is a wise saying from the communication seminar for beginners. Even if you don’t say anything, you communicate – but unfortunately you don’t convey a positive and attentive impression. The good news: Small talk can be learned and trained. Practice it and you will never have to fear embarrassing silence again.

Nothing is worse and more oppressive than silence. Be it in the office corridor, at the copier, in the elevator, in the canteen or at the Christmas party. But even in a job interview, small talk is the key to a successful start and the further course of the interview.

The fine Art of small talk is important in all everyday situations and opens doors that otherwise remain closed. That is why today we speak of “smart talk” rather than small talk. The master of the first words usually makes contacts faster, creates sympathy through proactive behavior and that alone paves a lot of paths. And that both in business and private life.

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INSIGHTS-Pape Consulting Group AG

First of all, however, it must be said: Small talk does NOT mean chatting until the other person falls asleep, but rather opening a short conversation and encouraging the other to join in and get to know each other a little better in a short verbal exchange. The Americans have perfected small talk. As soon as you step into a shop in New York, the salesrep will meet you enthusiastically, greet you effusively and then praise your hairstyle, your outfit or your shoes. „I love your style!“ … and everything about you is „amazing“ and „gorgeous“.

Well, that can get on your nerves as a Central European at some point, but it still helps astonishingly well to break the ice of silence and start small talk. You can see that compliments are also a perfect way to start a conversation – although you know that they are just Buzzword-Bingo.

Meet Our Management Team

Dimitri van den Oever

Senior Partner
Dimitri has joined our team in 2019. The dutchman finished his studies in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He enjoyed over 20 years of experience in various international management positions in the fields of Sales & Marketing, Human Resources and General Management. Before joining Pape Consulting Group, he was part of the European Executive Board from a leading global Direct Sales company.

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Here are some tips on how you can learn to get out of an embarrassing situation and start the Smalltalk smartly

1. Be courageous, dare to start when the other doesn’t.
Etiquette says the “senior” must take the first step. It is also the host’s turn first, for example when greeting someone at a job interview. But not everyone sees it that way and such a host can be pretty constrained. Then help him – and start opening the conversation. Remember:

What is said is not important. It is important that something is said.

This is called phatic communication. And here you can definitely fall back on completely stupid phrases like: „Did you enjoy the nice weather this past weekend?“

At first it may take a bit of effort, but every time it gets easier and you get more confident. And with practice, you become more confident. And at some point, you will even have fun with it. Practice chatting outside of work, on a park bench, at the kiosk, at the cash register or at the doctors. There is no need for a detailed discussion. The goal of small talk should just be to get in touch and get the ball rolling.

2. Smile is an icebreaker
You don’t want to have a conversation with a musty counterpart. Start every conversation with a smile. A smile is the icebreaker and is pleasant. Nothing is better than starting a conversation with a smile. Because as the saying goes:

„The shortest distance between two people is a smile.“

But that doesn’t mean a steel grin. Practice this in front of a mirror or let friends give you feedback. It is important. Many people look grumpy even though they are completely unaware of it.

3. Don’t be afraid of the trivial and the obvious
Often, expectations that are too high are the reason why small talk doesn’t even get started. You can talk about irrelevant things without a guilty conscience – even with superiors. The main thing is to take the first step and the ice is broken. The aim of small talk is simply to find any common ground that can be linked later in a „real conversation“ or the next elevator small talk.
4. Approach small talk topics
Some shy away from talking about the obvious. But the irrelevant and the obvious are particularly good ways to start a conversation, e.g. “Wonderful weather that we have had for a few days now!”.

Best „Smalltalk“ topics are

  • Talk about the place or the environment in which you are at the moment: “The lady at the reception was very attentive!”, “This is a great location here!”, “These are very nice offices, when did you move in here?“
  • Talk about the journey: “So much is going on in the city” … traffic jams, hectic rush hour, rush hour traffic, choose something. Your counterpart will surely go on.
  • Talk about the weather (!): You can always talk about the weather. Everyone is talking about the weather. By the way, that’s typical German. Maybe because there is always something to be upset about and Germans like to get upset. It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too stormy, too cloudy, too blue, too yellow, too green. You wear the wrong clothes, got your feet wet, forgot the umbrella, and the wind is also uncomfortable at the moment, or it’s so hot in the office that you can hardly concentrate.
  • Talking about changes: What is different than last time, what is new?
  • About the situation in which you both are: “Which floor do you want to go to?”
  • About the other person, ie your counterpart: “Have you just come from the lunch break, from the event, from the XYZ meeting…?” “When are you going on vacation?” “Is there a lot going on in your department at the moment?” “Been on vacation?” Or compliment: “Where did you get this briefcase from, I’m looking for something like that.”
  • Talk about yourself: „Was that a day today …“, „I like the new wall color in the offices“. The office furniture, the meeting room …

Show interest in what the other person tells you. And the best way to convey interest is to ask questions and listen carefully.

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Factsheet-Pape Consulting Group AG

What’s not working? The NoGo’s when it comes to small talk.

Of course, there are also topics that are better avoided when making small talk. This includes politics and religion, but health issues are also taboo. You shouldn’t talk about money in small talk, sex doesn’t belong here, no rumors and also the family situation doesn’t suit everyone. You shouldn’t complain too much, always stay positive.

As a rule of thumb, anything that could get the other person into an embarrassing situation is taboo during small talk. Because this little chat is all about two or more people feeling comfortable together. No more, but no less either.

Happy Smarttalk!

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