How to have small talk

A sense of humor, erudition and appropriate compliments will help. secular conversation” />

Tatyana Shakhmatova Candidate of Philology, lecturer, author of the series of books “Philological Investigation” published by “Eksmo”.

Small talk, or small talk, originated in France and England. In the 19th century, Russian high society adopted the skill of dialogue of associations (another name for small talk), but over the years of Soviet history it was lost. However, the roots of the domestic inability to conduct a secular conversation are even deeper: a non-binding conversation to establish contact is absent not only in our culture, but also in the language code.

There are simply no speech samples of the small talk genre in our arsenal, and we have nothing to build an easy conversation from. Moreover, our very mentality seems to resist “small talk”. We love depth in conversation, and English weather talk seems empty to us, and Chinese small talk about food seems silly.

Meanwhile, business etiquette is actively developing in Russia, which involves communication at business meetings, forums, and business breakfasts. In these formats, too serious and personal conversations are unacceptable. How, in a few minutes, to win over an unfamiliar or unfamiliar person, to establish contact and at the same time not alienate? There is only one way out: we will have to come up with a Russian small talk. But before inventing your own, you should pay attention to what has already been invented.

What can be borrowed from English small talk

In an English conversation, there are a lot of thematic taboos, because in this format of communication one cannot argue, violate the boundaries of the interlocutor, spoil his mood or make him bored. Residents of Foggy Albion do not like to talk about personal life and relationships within the family, about religion, health, problems at work, politics, earnings, Brexit, migrants, philosophy, football (especially if you are from Manchester, and your counterpart is from Liverpool).< /p>

It is easier to list decent topics for conversation than to remember all English taboo topics. However, such a careful selection suggests that we have completely safe and win-win options that will be appropriate in almost any situation and with any interlocutor.

Safe topics for easy conversation

1. Weather

A typical English conversation about the weather goes like this:

—It's quite warm today.
—Yes, it was a wonderful day.
—It seems that the sun came out for the first time this week .
— Yes, I don't remember the sun showing for more than ten minutes these days.
— It seems that the summer before last also had a lot of cloudy days.
— I remember that summer very well, my family and I just rented a lovely cottage in Sussex near the coast, but we never even went on a picnic …

Perhaps this topic is not the most successful for Russian speakers, but if you approach the issue with humor and ingenuity, then the weather may well come in handy. I will give examples that I heard myself:

  • “It seems pointless to take a taxi: it's pouring so hard that it's time to start building the ark.”
  • “Come in, sit down. It's pretty warm in here.” “Yes, I’ll take off my hat as soon as it freezes off my head.”

The famous English rule of creating comedy not too bad applies here.

< h4>2. Pets

The British are dog lovers. The fashion for dogs is supported by the queen mother herself, so making a remark about the breed of a passing animal or inquiring about the health of a colleague's terrier is a perfectly acceptable conversation starter in Foggy Albion.

— I have a dog of the same breed as on this calendar.
— Oh, really? My mother had exactly the same, it is a wonderful breed.
— You are absolutely right, there is almost no trouble with these dogs. True, they are very mobile.
— But from some point of view, this is even a plus.

3. The object in the hands of the interlocutor

As an example, I will give a case that happened to me personally and at first puzzled me.

“Will you be eating this cake alone?” a saleswoman asked me in a small patisserie near our house in Warrington.

I managed to get offended, and twice: do I really look like a person who has no one to eat cake with? Or is the employee hinting that it's time for me to quit eating pastries at night in a dark kitchen?

But then it dawned on me that they were trying to start a small talk with me, and there was a very specific meaning behind this strange question. In essence, this is a question about the composition of the family (that very personal taboo question like “Do you have children?”), But it is asked very correctly. Seeing a new face, the saleswoman wanted to find out how often I would come to her candy store and buy sweets.

“My husband is not too fond of sweets, but I will definitely give him a try,” I replied after an obscenely long pause .

The lady breathed a sigh of relief. To offend someone is the worst of evils in English conversation, and my face seemed to express intense thoughts.

“Hope you both enjoy it. Have a nice day, come with your husband, we have more nuts and sweets based on stevia!” she smiled. Voila, the goal has been achieved: the exchange of information has taken place, there is contact.

The question about the subject is good because it has a clear situational framework, from which it is not so easy to go into a personal zone. An unusual pen or a sticker on a laptop, a conference program – everything can be an occasion to start a light conversation. I spoke to one of my future students, trying to find out who Totoro was, in the form of which her phone case was made. As a result, we studied with her for almost two years, and it all started with the object in her hands.

Rules that can be adopted

  1. Agree with the interlocutor . Even if the banality was expressed, it is always nice to hear the answer “yes”: “Good weather is so uplifting!” — “You can't disagree with that.”
  2. Use humor.If it's bad, imagine it could be worse. If everything is dazzlingly beautiful, pretend that you do not attach too much importance to it. The rule “not so bad” works in both small talks.
  3. Compliment and ask questions. Even if you don't like animals, since we are talking about them, praise the dog of the interlocutor. Or his cat (this topic is definitely a win-win). It is also appropriate to ask a question, make a comment or compliment the object in the hands of the interlocutor.

What else will help to conduct a small talk in Russian

Russian speakers have far fewer taboo topics for communicating with strangers than English speakers. It is safe to name the following inappropriate topics:

  • nationality;
  • family composition, marital status;
  • income level;
  • religion and attitude to religion;
  • health, illness, death;
  • acute social issues (for example, my students named feminism among such topics, since it is often understood and perceived ambiguously).

On the one hand, weak thematic regulation is a plus, since it is easier to find a common topic for conversation. On the other hand, it is a minus, because even in a short conversation a conflict situation can arise. From this feature follows the first important skill for successful small talk.

1. Topic Switch

– Do you have children?
– No.
– Usually they answer yes, so I'm asking this question to find common topics.
– I might be lying, if you want to. Ask again.
— Hmmm. Terrible start.

This is not a dialogue from a theater play of the absurd, but a real conversation that I heard with my own ears. The person chose an unsuccessful question to start a conversation, and having received a negative answer, he tried to explain that the situation did not improve. Nevertheless, the course of the conversation was managed to be corrected with the help of humor. The suggestion to lie and the comment “terrible beginning” had already been uttered with a smile. In this case, the technique worked to the extreme sharpening of the situation, turning it into a parody of itself.

To switch the topic, you can use a joke or a question that seems to suddenly come to your mind. And if you have mutual acquaintances with the interlocutor, switching the subject is even easier:

  • “But I recently met our classmate!”
  • “How is your boss doing? We used to work on the same project with him.”
  • “I completely forgot, Alexey asked me to say hello.”

2. Questions that require a detailed answer

Use them instead of “closed” questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. For example: “To be honest, I never shared the idea that tests like the Rands test can really determine the viability of a team. What do you think? A similar question posed to colleagues can give rise to a whole discussion.

3. Extended answers

Even if the question can be answered in one word, it is important to give the interlocutor a lead to keep the conversation going. Type in your response any new information that he might respond to.

— I noticed that you like to cook.
— Yes, I especially like trying new recipes. Every time I visit a new country, I try to find out some culinary secrets from the locals.
— Oh, are you also a traveler? This year I visited Kamchatka for the first time, and finally my dream came true.

4. Erudition and speed of reaction

Name a couple of names from the field you are talking about, or from the area of ​​​​your common professional interests, give an interesting fact. It always makes a good impression.

As an example, let's take the following conversation at the coffee break of a book marketing conference:

— Ivanov voiced an interesting idea about a creative approach in sales: how to sell a book to a person that he did not even think of buying.
— This approach works especially funny when you need to sell a book by Dale Carnegie.

Or like this:

— Can you recommend interesting places where you can go in Kazan?
— Usually it is recommended to visit the Kremlin, Bauman Street, Staro-Tatarskaya Sloboda. And I would also advise you to go to the Kachalov Theater. You won't be disappointed, but tickets must be booked in advance.
— Oh, do you like theater?

In my opinion, small talk is one of the most important, but also the most difficult genres of business communication. It is necessary to adapt both to the moment and to the interlocutor, and at the same time not to forget about one's own interests. However, if you know the key features of such a conversation and practice regularly, you can develop your own conversation techniques and become a real communication guru.