The Art Of Small Talk, And How It Can Impact You At Work

Posted: January 16, 2017
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Are you a pro at making small talk, or do you stare in silence when meeting new people? Here’s how small talk could help your career.

A few weeks back, I conducted a session on Client Communication for a group of associates at work. The session contains a slide on ‘Small Talk’. So before proceeding with the agenda, I tried to engage in small talk with the participants, without mentioning why I was doing so.

There were about 15 people who had turned up early. I spoke about how it was nice to see people turning up before the session started, and how the system was taking all the time to boot. I tried to get into a conversation, so I looked at one lady and told her that I’d remembered seeing her previously. I asked vague questions about which block she was from and she started responding.

After this small exercise, I proceeded with the agenda and when it came to small talk, I reminded them of the conversation I’d tried to initiate earlier. I was trying to convey the importance of small talk and what topics one can opt for when one of the participants said that it was practically impossible to know what the other person might be interested in talking about.

Apart from the weather and other such non-controversial topics, I tried to explain that it wasn’t that difficult and we would probably need a few basic questions to get through. He wasn’t completely satisfied. So, I told him I could initiate a conversation with anyone in the room.

I asked someone to volunteer. I asked him the mode of transport he used, and he said he used the office buses. I asked him whether the bus drivers were always on time. I told him how my bus driver was always on time and the many others were always late. I gradually shifted the focus from bus timings to office timings. I told him how it was mandatory for me to reach by 9, and he told about how he needed to be in his module only by 10. And we ended it there.

The person who had asked for this demo wasn’t entirely impressed. So I suggested that he volunteer and gave him the option of being someone else (Client, Manager, VP) so that I could try all possible questions. For reasons not known to me, I could sense that everyone was visibly excited. I was a little worried if this person would say no, just for the sake of it but proceeded any way. He said he would be a Manager. I said that I would be a Manager too, and told him to assume that we were meeting in a conference room, waiting for a few more people to join.

Initially I started off asking if he had any idea how long the meeting would go, or why the meeting was scheduled on a Monday. He purposely answered in as few words as possible. I tried to steer the conversation to a different topic, and casually asked about his weekend. I was hoping he would say something, so that I could lead from there and get into a conversation.

He said he had watched a movie. I told him how difficult I found it to get tickets and asked him how he booked his tickets. He got excited and told me about how the bookings open every Wednesday midnight for the week and he gave me a detailed explanation. Having succeeded in making him talk, I told him that I was new to the city and asked him for suggestions. He started speaking enthusiastically and suddenly stopped, having realized that we were having a conversation.

Once the session was over, I was wondering if I was able to initiate a conversation because it was easier for me (being comparatively talkative), or if the questions I asked prompted the other person to talk well. They say small talk is important, as it helps you establish a rapport with the other person. It can also help avoid the awkward silence when you’re waiting for someone to join.

They stress the importance of small talk, especially when you meet someone in person; it is even considered rude when someone is trying to initiate a conversation (in a formal environment) and you don’t respond. Of course this is not applicable when people want to know about personal information or when random strangers want to initiate a conversation with you. (All I’m saying is, that is an entirely different topic). Yes, it may not come easily to others, but with practice, anything is possible.

I’m not saying it works at all times, but from my experience I feel this is very important for networking. I’ve connected with a lot of people across the organization, across accounts and across various levels. I might not work with them on a daily basis, but when I do get a chance to meet them, I realize people remember me better and there is no need of an introduction again.

In a huge organization, that does matter, right? Even in non-professional environments, when you go to an event you do come across people who may share similar interests, and making small talk can play a good role.

So, have you ever had to initiate small talk with someone? How was your experience, do share it with us!

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Ashwini CN

Ashwini CN

I’m a blogger from Chennai. I believe that anything worth talking is worth writing, precisely the reason I blog. I love reading books and talking with like-minded people. I’m happy when I can eat, smile and laugh without being bothered by anything in the world.


Author's Blog: https://ashwinicn.com/

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  1. I liked this post a lot. I hate small talk and find it incredibly difficult to do !! I found all the questions you posed to people you spoke to in the exercise very useful and interesting and I would definitely respond to them or ask them myself in future when stuck in a jam for what to say. I find it especially hard to talk to strangers in social gathering who I may clearly have no common ground with. Often in these situations, (but even at work) I find that people in India have little or no respect for one’s privacy and “small talk” is often just an intrusive excuse to peek into a private space or to assess the other’s social standing!! This is really rather rude and sometimes obnoxious. (people will start with “what a lovely ring you have” and then straight away how much it cost!!!) So along with guiding people about what small talk questions could be asked and how it helps networking, it might be useful, to also guide them as much about what not to ask and how not to invade personal comfort zones or intrude on private matters while making small talk.

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