Why is it worth learning ‘small talk’?
Whether we call it ‘small talk’ or social English, the ability to start – and continue - a conversation with a stranger or a colleague or client is a useful skill. But the name itself seems rather negative: we want to do business and get to the point so why not just do that and not waste time? (some people might ask). Well, according to the Financial Times*, “If you don’t talk, people don’t like you much.” Let’s explore why small talk is important and how language is used.
1. Social and cultural norms
Beginning by talking about the weather or the weekend may seem boring (and it often is!) but it is the social norm in many cultures and countries. We are social animals and we want to create connections with others. Even though your intensive course may only be a week long, we believe it is highly beneficial to get to know staff and your fellow students during breaks and over lunch and dinner. Cultural differences may not be the main topic of conversation but talking to someone with a different experience or way of life is always enriching.
2. Builds relationships
Small talk involves as much listening as speaking and when you listen to others, you show respect, you give them your time and your attention, which in turn, has the potential to build a good relationship. This is especially important when difficult issues need to be addressed. Whatever your relationship (line manager, co-worker etc), this means that you will probably know – and see - the bigger picture and act accordingly.
3. Consolidates your language
Knowing some fixed phrases helps you start a conversation more easily when you are under pressure. If you’re at your first English-speaking conference, for example, it’s good to know some expressions to get you started: asking open questions like, ‘how was your journey here today?’, have more potential than closed (or yes/no) questions. Having some short phrases you have practised can use also help you to get a feel for the language patterns of English – and keeps your mind in English.
4. Opens doors
Small talk does have its risks: it is an open conversation and any subject could come up! At the same time, small talk can lead anywhere - future business contacts and contracts, partnerships etc. Many of our students have kept in touch with people that they first met on one of our intensive courses and some have even come up with business solutions in the classroom. Being in different surroundings with new people and with a change of focus (learning!) is definitely one of the main benefits of taking a course with us.
English is the language of international teams and to work together well, we have to communicate. Small talk is simply starting well. Some might say it’s a crucial skill in our globalised economies – it’s part of how we do business nowadays.
What is your experience of meeting new people and being part of an international project or team? We’d love to know what you’ve learned.
* ‘Small talk makes a big difference to your career’: Lucy Kellerway, Financial Times, 16.02.2014