10 Tips on Making Small Talk

By Judy Apps for British Airways Business Life magazine

Photography by 123rf

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May 2016

Fluent small talk doesn’t come easy to everyone but it can be a great asset in the workplace. Here are some pointers on how to get the conversation started from communication specialist, Judy Apps.

1. Start anywhere — but speak!

Obvious, but important. If you are at a business event where you don't know anyone, any casual comment or question can get a conversation going. Take it easy, don't put pressure on yourself, and just make a simple friendly remark or float a non-personal question — about the weather, the place, the flight — anything. If it's ignored, nothing lost, if you get a response, great!

Don't feel you have to agree on everything when chatting to someone new

2. Tune in

Get on the same wavelength as the other person by adopting a similar energy. If they seem calm, speak calmly too. If they are enthusiastic, put more energy into it. The other person will then feel acknowledged, and you'll start to build a good connection.

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  • Conversation is like a game of tennis© 123rf
  • Relationships are formed through shared values© Shutterstock
  • Get on the same wavelength by adopting a similar energy© 123rf

3. Be curious

Don't be put off by your initial reaction to a voice or appearance — just enjoy getting gently curious about the other person. Your interest produces great questions and moves things forward.

4. Don't drop the ball

Conversation is like a game of tennis — it gets very frustrating if the other person never hits the ball back. So if someone asks you a question, answer it — in more than one word — and then ask something back in return. For example, "Yes, I think we need to consider alternative ways to increase ROI. What are your thoughts on how we could do this?"

5. Don't put up barriers

We often half-listen and jump to instant conclusions about people. Listen well, without judgement, criticism, comparison or competition. You'll get genuine insights into the other person and they will find it easier to be genuine with you.

6. Don't agree about everything

You'll never get to know each other if you agree with everything from fear of causing offence. It gets very boring. Stay on the same wavelength, maintain a relaxed connection and be happy to say when you disagree. It makes for a much more lively and enjoyable conversation for both of you.

  • Judy Apps advises that when you're genuine, other people sense this and connect with you much better© Getty

7. Stay present and real

You may feel that you are a bit dull and try to pretend to be more interesting. Realise this: you are far more interesting when you are yourself, with all your vulnerabilities. When you're genuine, the other person senses this and connects much better with you.

8. Show spontaneous energy

If you insist on keeping your feelings tightly buttoned up, the other person can never get to know you. Let them see your pleasure, frustration and determination. Demonstrating what you really feel about things is the quickest way to form a connection.

9. Share what matters to you

Good working relationships are formed through shared values, so you'll get closer to each other when you touch on what really matters to you. For example, you may be consulting about further development opportunities for your team, but what is your major interest? Improving training statistics? Building confidence and self-reliance? Fairness of opportunity? Let the other person know, and you will create increased trust between you.

10. Trust yourself

Trust allows you to let go of control so the conversation can flow. The odd silence is natural and easy, a part of the give and take of enjoyable conversation.