small talk

Small talk

Being able “to chat” in English is an important part of the learning process, particularly in business English.  It starts with introductions when you meet people and extends to being able to talk about other things apart from business.

First impressions are very important, so a good introduction is where is starts – a greeting, your name (and company if a business event), followed by one of the key introduction phrases.

“We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility”

                                                                                                   Malcolm Gladwell

Check that you know the difference between “How do you do?” and “How are you?” and what is the correct response?

Well, “How do you do”, “Nice to meet you” and “Pleased to meet you” are the 3 main introductory phrases and you also respond with one of them, giving your name and company.   “ How are you” is what you say when you meet them again and the response to this is “Fine, (or “Very well”) thanks and you”.

Do you know the difference between “Nice to meet you” and “Nice meeting you”?  And how do you ask somebody about their work?   What’s your profession?”  No, way.  So when people engage me to train them, be they 1-1 executives, managers or small groups within a company, I always start with small talk and chatting for the first couple of lessons as this is “a getting to know you process” and an essential input of vocabulary they need to become more proficient and more relaxed.

But let’s face it – Germans are not generally natural small talkers!  30 years in Germany has shown me this.   Ask a German did they have a nice weekend and they’ll tell you – of course!  Why would I ask to be told “of course”?  A German friend who has lived in the UK for a few years told me recently that the neigh-bours always say

“How are you”, but they don’t really expect an answer.”  Of course they do, said I – what do you say in reply?  “Fine, thank you” she said.  And what else?  “Well, nothing”.

So that’s the problem I told her, it’s an opening for small talk; you need to start chatting!   Invite a German to do something with you and they’ll tell you “I have no time”, instead of saying “I’m sorry I can’t because …….. .    Lots of my clients have told me they don’t like small talk.  However, sometimes it’s a language problem and that’s why I try to make sure my clients know the phrases and feel more relaxed in this area.

While we are about it, there’s also the directness of the German language versus the English indirectness to overcome!  We usually translate word for word from our native tongue, unless taught otherwise.  So, it’s not “What’s your name?” but “Could I have your name please?” and it’s not “Please sit down”, but ”Would you like to take a seat?” – an offer rather than an order.   Germans think that the British politeness is sometimes a waste of time and they should get to the point, but cultural differences evolve around this and that’s a whole other subject.

Plus the fact that if you want to do business, then this is such an important part of doing it!

If you take part in my training we learn all about introductions and small talk and we practice it regularly and actually it’s a lot of fun!

Pat Pledger 24/3/20