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How to Make Better Small Talk

How to Make Better Small Talk

We make small talk—polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters—every day without even realizing it: when we ask a colleague if the morning traffic was slow or how someone's weekend was, or when we run into someone at the supermarket. Small talk is an important type of conversation for making contact with people we don’t know well or at all, and for maintaining relationships with friends, colleagues, and business partners.

When making small talk in Canada, what is appropriate to ask about and share with strangers may differ from your own country.

Kurt Lewin, a cultural specialist, came up with a classification using peaches and coconuts to explain cultural differences. According to Lewin’s theory, in “peach” cultures like Canada, the USA, or India, people tend to be friendly with new people. They smile a lot and easily share information about themselves. In “coconut” cultures such as France, Ukraine, or Germany, people are more closed off from those who are not their friends. However, when they get to know someone, they are more likely to have long-lasting connections. Whether you're moving from a country of coconuts or peaches to Canada, it’s important to know what's okay to discuss in small talk situations.

Safe Small Talk Topics

1. Weather: Lovely day, don’t you think?
2. Sports: Did you watch the basketball game last night?
3. Entertainment: What's a favorite book that you can recommend?
4. Current Events: Did you hear about new hotel they're building downtown?

Small Talk Topics You Should Avoid

1. Family and Relationships: Are you married? When are you going to have kids?
2. Work: How much do you earn? Do you like your manager?
3. Weight: You’ve lost tons of weight. How much did you lose? Are you sick?
4. Religion: Are you Christian/Muslim/Hindu?
5. Culture: Why do you always speak to other Chinese people in Chinese?

Have you ever noticed how some people can keep others interested in a conversation for as long as they choose, while for others it can be quite a challenge? Some people will skip networking or social events because they don’t feel comfortable making small talk. You might think you have to be born with conversation skills, but there’s actually a way to improve your ability to make small talk.

One of the keys to keep small talk going is to not do all talking. Encourage the other person to speak. Try to lead the conversation with open-ended questions, those which require more than “yes” or “no” answers.

Examples of open-ended questions are:

  • Moving to a new city/town: What's the best area to buy a house in your town?
  • School /Education: How was your high school experience?
  • Vacation/Holidays: What sights do you plan to see on your vacation?
  • Interview: How will you help the company if you are hired to work for us?
  • Booking Online: How do you usually book tickets for a flight?
  • Entertainment/Leisure: What's the fastest way to get to the movie theatre?

3 Ways to Become More Confident at Making Small Talk

1.Stay Informed

Set aside 20-30 minutes every day to catch up on social, economic, environment and sports news: common and safe topics for conversation.

2. Be a Good Listener

Active listening means concentrating on what the other person is saying. Show that you’re engaged in the conversation by asking questions related to the topic.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Start initiating conversations among your friends or family members. This can be great small talk training in a stress-free environment.

Remember, every opportunity to make small talk could be the key to success! And the next person you chat with could be your new co-worker, client, or an investor. Never underestimate the value of leaving someone with a good first impression!

You can learn more about small talkCanadian workplace culturejob search strategies, networking, conflict management, presentation skills, negotiating, and more with SOPA.

Sources:

Oxford Canadian English Dictionary: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/small_talk

Creative Culture: Are You a Peach or a Coconut? http://creativecultureint.com/peach-or-coconut/

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Saturday, 22 February 2020

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