Building Relationships between 12 and 2 p.m. 

“Small talk isn’t just about being gregarious or entertaining, it is a gesture of respect.”  

Brett Nelson, “Forbes”

What is Small talk?

There is nothing small about small talk. Small talk is an important people skill. It’s an important executive skill. ‘Small talk’ is talking about things that are not connected with business. Successful small talk can make a positive impression and also play a role in developing relationships. It is common for small talk to take place among people who do not know each other very well, for example at work meetings, meeting a prospective client, looking to get a job, getting promoted and business conferences.

These days business and interviewing don’t happen in closed doors of the offices always but takes place over business lunches in restaurants.  A lot of deals have been made over a great meal. When you are with a customer or a client, it is unlikely that you will always be “talking shop.” Sometimes you will have to engage in what is called “small talk.” Don’t dive right into a business conversation. Prefer to allow a bit of time before getting into “why we’re here”

What does Small Talk allow you to do?

  • To create a bonding and comfort level with your client
  • Establishes a positive impression of you and your organization
  • Stepping stone for a long lasting relationship
  • Talks about evergreen topics, for example, the weather, city sightseeing, music, hobbies, food, travel and so on
  • Enhances business prospects and profits
  • It enables better listening abilities and temporarily un-plug your smart-phone.

Do you find business small talk easy or difficult at Business Lunches?

  • I cannot coin the right words at the right time to indulge in small talk conversation
  • I cannot initiate a conversation with strangers
  • What topics do I talk about?
  • How can I behave friendly and relaxed with a stranger as I am an introvert
  • In a conference when people are already discussing a topic I don’t know how to participate and gel with a group
  • What is the best way I can excuse myself from a conversation?

Do these concerns look familiar? Is this what you think too?
This article focuses on scenarios you might find yourself in at a Business Lunch Meeting

Two scenes are described:

  • Sets the scene for you
  • Lists the phrases and expressions you‘ll need and;
  • Show you how to put these expressions together with authentic dialogues

Scenario One: Business Lunch Meetings

Scene one: Discussing the Menu

Scene Two: Talking restaurants and different cuisines

Scene One: Discussing the menu

Setting the scene: You’ve arranged a business meeting with a client over lunch.

How do you order drinks and the main course?

Important phrases and expressions before ordering

Cooking methods:

  • Fish, meat and vegetables can be stir-fried, grilled, roasted, sautéed, boiled and baked
  • Chicken can be tandoori
  • Potatoes can be fried, baked, boiled and mashed

Restaurant Social English

Recommending food 

  • What do you recommend?
  • I recommend you try one of the specials.

As you ask questions, be prepared to share about yourself. Believe in 50-50 sharing. Asking one question after another without sharing anything can be perceived as invasive. You want to have a conversation, not an interrogation or an interview.

Scenario one: Business Lunches

Talking about restaurants and cuisines

Setting the scene: You and your client have just placed your order with the waiter and are enjoying your drinks before the starters (appetizers) arrive.

Before you get down to discussing business, you continue with the conversation i.e. small talk on restaurants and food in general especially different cuisines.

You also talk about the decor and the type of restaurants and cuisine your client likes.

Vocabulary used:

  • This restaurant is very popular for its ethnic food
  • The ambience is very inviting and it’s very tastefully done up
  • Plenty of options
  • It has an exotic and an excellent spread
  • There’s real buzz about it
  • Felt pampered with their hospitality
  • What cuisines do you serve?

Dialogue with the client

Talking about food in general, your likes and dislikes, and also making comparisons between countries and cuisine styles from different countries. So here are some conversation tips.

Client: Well, I must say this restaurant seems to be a very happening place? The ambience is very impressive. Excellent choice.

You: I’m glad you liked it. Do you go a lot to restaurants? What types of cuisines do you like?

Client: Oh yes, I love Thai food. We have an excellent Thai restaurant in our town. How about you? What types of cuisines do you like?

You: Oh I like my ethnic Mughal food especially cooked over charcoal.  There is a dhabha (open air restaurant) a little far away from my house but over the weekends it is a pleasure to dine here and have a long drive too.  These dhabhas are spread over acres of land, with charpoyis (coir beds) and big wooden tables, surrounded by lush greenery and during the winters it is a total bliss.

You: How about the weather in your country?

Client: Ah yes, the great weather in my country!

(This gives you the chance to ask your client about weather in his country)

Talking about the weather: Useful expressions

  • Beautiful day, isn’t it?
  • How’s the weather like in your country?
  • The weather is very unpredictable these days.
  • It’s turned out nice again.
  • Terrible weather, isn’t it?
  • It looks like it’s going to snow.
  • It sure would be nice to be in Ireland right now.
  • The weather forecasts predict thunderstorms this weekend.
  • We couldn’t ask for a nicer day, could we?
  • Heavy rain battered Mumbai on Tuesday, triggering traffic jams and water logging in many areas of the city. Schools and colleges have been asked to remain closed today.

Discuss general-interest subjects such as movies, theater, sports, books, food, fashion, travel and hobbies. It demonstrates to others that you are approachable and friendly.

“Do you play any sports yourself?” Exchange it with your like in sports.

Have you visited India before? Give information about your own country.

Or you could say, “Do you travel much?” And then, start talking generally about travel.

But perhaps you’re a music fan. What would you say in that case? You’ve discovered that you both really like a particular music artist. You could say, “What did you think about the new album?”

Avoid these subjects with others you don’t know very well:

  • Your health
  • Personal questions.
  • Mean gossip.
  • Off-color jokes.
  • Controversial issues, such as politics or religion, when you don’t know the others in the group.

Drop a Compliment from time to time, and let someone know when they’ve impressed you in some way:

  • “That is a nice dress! It looks great on you. Where did you get that?” (Works better from girl to girl; else you’ll either come across as gay)
  • “I like your briefcase! Very classy. Did you just buy it?”
  • “That scarf is beautiful, wherever did you get it?”
  • I wish I could steal your designer for myself!
  • Your article in the news bulletin was a great read. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the issue.
  • How do handle so much responsibility so calmly?
  • Your host will handle the bill. Do not fuss over the same.
  • You will want to enjoy yourself. The greatest compliment you can pay your host is to be attentive, relaxed, and appreciative.
  • A simple, “Thank you so much for a lovely lunch,” will suffice, since you will be following up with a handwritten thank you note.

Small talk is an important people and executive skill that you all can develop to establish lasting relationships when meeting people for the first time in Business. This could lead to higher productivity and profitability.

Remember people buy unto you personally before they buy unto you professionally.

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