Everyone has experienced it many times e.g. at the bus stop or in an office there is always a situation when a short unimportant conversation is required or ice needs to be broken. The question is, though, how to start it. One always needs to be braver than the other to break the awkward silence. Many of people I have worked with say they have no clue how to start small talk even in their language. Therefore, I am going to suggest the commonest topics and couple of questions you can use yourself.
In my experience, once you master small talk, you will not have any problems to talk to anyone no matter who it is - a boss, your date, or a clerk. If you are nice and add a smile, people will know that you are a nice person to talk to.
Here are some topics and questions which you can use in practice. The list is not exhaustive. In addition, tweaking and follow-up questions contextually suitable are highly recommended. You might also want to consider the person’s background. Certain questions might be inappropriate based on for example a country, a religion, a gender etc.
o Question tags / intonation (will make the other person react)
o Wh/how questions (will give you a longer answer)
o Expressions showing interest or surprise: Really? No way! Are you serious?
TASK 1: About which topics do you think you are more likely to talk to:
a) a friend or a colleague?
b) an important business partner?
c) a stranger from another country, possibly religious and a bit conservative?
Some advice at the end:
1 GIVE A COMPLIMENT
What could go wrong with a nice compliment. It could make someone’s day. However, always mean it!
2 MAKE A SUGGESTION
Is there a person you wish to get to know better? Suggest something. You can go for lunch with a colleague, grab a beer after work, go for a walk etc.
3 KEEP ASKING
A person can be shy and not so talkative. One way to keep conversation alive is asking questions. It can be exhausting, and you might feel like the other person is not interested, but at least there will not be that awkward silence.
There are some don’ts that you should keep in mind such as:
Don’t be arrogant!
Don’t talk only about yourself!
Don’t be too negative or pessimistic!