#200: English Small Talk at Work [3 Question Types for Successful Conversations]

Mar 10, 2021 | Business Professional English, Small Talk in English

Do you avoid English small talk too? You’re not alone.

Like you, I struggle with small talk. Not only can it be challenging and awkward to find the right questions but it also feels unimportant.

Truthfully, small talk is polite but unimportant conversation.

But here’s the thing: the only way to make a connection with someone, to find something in common, and take those first steps in a relationship is to start with small talk.

My goal is to make English small talk at work fun, easy, and successful for you — whether you’re getting to know a colleague you see every day or you’ve just introduced yourself to a new team member.

To make that happen, I have 3 kinds of questions you can use and quickly adapt for conversations at work.

English Small Talk at Work

3 Types of Questions for Successful Conversations



For better or worse, it isn’t possible to introduce yourself to someone new and instantly become friends with them. That really wouldn’t make sense. Would it?

You can’t be friends with someone you don’t know yet.

So how do you make a transition from introducing yourself to a new team member, to having a weekly lunch date on Tuesdays with someone you work with?

The answer to that is simple. Small talk.

Now I know we all hate small talk, or we say that we hate small talk. We have this idea that it’s something hard, stressful, uncomfortable, boring, or even meaningless.

And sure, it’s true. Small talk tends to be polite, but unimportant conversation.

We also worry over what kinds of questions we can ask or what is appropriate in small talk.

I’m Annemarie with Speak Confident English. This is exactly where you want to be every week to get the confidence you want for your life and work in English.

In today’s video, you’re going to learn how to make small talk in English, easy, fun, and successful so that you can get to know a new coworker and develop better relationships with the people that you see at work regularly.

By the end of this lesson today, you’ll be ready to start asking questions at work and enjoy conversations with your coworkers.

To get started, let’s do a quick recap on why small talk is so important and how it can help you develop relationships in English.

Small talk is the pathway to learning something new about a coworker, finding a meaningful connection with someone, discovering a potential new friendship and having fun in a conversation.

So whether you want to get to know one of your coworkers better, or you’ve just introduced yourself to a new team member, here are three different ways you can start small talk conversations successfully, and I’ll include examples along the way.

Option number one is start with a compliment and then add a connected question.

This is definitely a strategy Americans love, and this is what it sounds like. I love that sweater. Is it new? Those are cute shoes. Where’d you get them? That drawing is fantastic. Are you an artist on the side?

This is a strategy several of my students who live in the United States have noticed and they thought it was a little bit strange.

One of my students asked me, why do Americans always want to know where I bought something? And the truth is that isn’t really what we want to know.

Perhaps sometimes we want to know where you got that dress or those shoes, but what we’re really doing is trying to start a conversation. And we do that by complimenting something we like. And then following it up with a question.

In that process, we start to learn something about you. Of course, if I ask you where you bought those shoes, I might learn what store you like to shop at. And maybe it’s a store I also like to shop at. It may seem small, strange, and insignificant, but the only way to develop a relationship is to find those initial connections, however small they might be.

And this strategy helps us start those small talk conversations in a really polite and positive way.

The second strategy you can use for small talk is to get the conversation flowing with engaging questions.

This is easier than it sounds.

We’re all familiar with questions like how long have you worked here? How long have you been an accountant? Do you like working here? How was your weekend? Those are all common questions. In fact, that last one may be the most common question asked on Monday mornings.

But the problem with all of those is that they lead to very simple or one word answers.

For example, how long have you worked here? Four years. How long have you been an accountant? Seven years. Do you like working here? Yes. How was your weekend? Fine.

It’s really hard to have a successful conversation when someone just gives us a one-word answer.

A better approach is to use questions that encourage someone to talk and talk and talk and talk. The more someone else talks, the more we learn and it’s easier to find more engaging in depth questions and find connections.

Here’s an example. Last week I shared a lesson on how to successfully introduce yourself to new people at work. Let’s use an example introduction from that lesson and see how we can follow it up with a successful, engaging small talk question.

The introduction may start with, “Hey, Rebecca. Nice to meet you. I’m Sarah. I’m the new part-time accountant here. How long have you been at the company?”

Now with that first question, it’s very possible for Rebecca to give a short one word answer and she probably will. She might say I’ve been here seven years or simply seven years.

After that short question, a better small talk question that encourages conversation might be, what do you like about working here? It’s really difficult to give a one word, answer to that question.

Not only does that question, encourage conversation, but you’ll also learn something interesting and get more details about Rebecca and her experience working at this company.

Similarly, if you’re talking to a new coworker who has recently moved to this particular city, you could ask how’s the new neighborhood and the response could be it’s good. It’s fine.

A better question might be, what do you like about your new neighborhood? With that question, anything is possible. Not only are you encouraging the conversation, but you may find some wonderful connections or maybe even learn something new about the city where you live.

Another example. Of course, on Monday mornings, you could ask your coworker, how was your weekend? And the answer is usually it was good. It was fine.

Or you could start a Monday morning conversation with, so what kinds of things do you do on the weekends for fun when you’re not at work?

Once again, the answers to that are endless and you will certainly learn something new and interesting about your coworker.

When you ask engaging questions, not only will you get longer answers, but the conversation will be more fun and it will be easier to keep it going with follow-up questions.

And finally, the third way to start successful small talk at work is to ask for advice or get someone’s opinion.

Now you may be thinking Annemarie is that really small talk? Isn’t giving my opinion more personal?

My answer to that is yes and no. If I ask for advice on buying a house or marriage, or if I ask your opinion on a political candidate, those are definitely more personal topics and would not be appropriate for small talk.

But asking for your favorite pizza place on a Friday night, or where’s the best place to get coffee near the office or asking if you recommend Barcelona for a great vacation spot, because I know that you went to Barcelona last summer?

These are all appropriate topics for small talk. And they’re also asking for someone’s advice or their opinion.

Everyone loves to give their advice, their recommendations and their opinions. So these are extremely successful ways to get a conversation going.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Here’s how you might include a question on someone’s advice or opinion when you’re meeting a new coworker:

“Hey Rebecca, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Sarah, the new part-time accountant here. I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous on my first day, but I’m really excited to get to know everyone. And I’d love to find out where the best places to get coffee around here. What’s your favorite near the office?”

Not only does that example include an introduction following the structure I shared in my lesson last week, but it also ends with a question seeking advice or someone’s opinion about a great coffee shop near the office.

Here’s another example. If you’re chatting with a coworker, you already know well, “Hey Sue. You know how my husband and I get pizza every Friday for kind of tired of the same old place. What are your thoughts on the best pizza in town?”

Or here’s another, “Hey Sue. Didn’t you go to Barcelona last summer? I’m thinking about it for our next vacation. I’d love to get your thoughts on it.”

Notice in those examples, I didn’t ask where do you like to get pizza or do you recommend Barcelona asking those questions could lead to a very simple one word answer or even a simple yes or no.

Instead I’m asking for details, advice and opinions by starting with what are your thoughts on or what are your thoughts about that is an excellent, simple way to ask questions on someone’s opinion and to get more in-depth answers.

And with that, you have three simple ways to ask small talk questions that make conversations easy, successful, and fun in English.

As a quick recap, strategy number one is start with a compliment and ask a connected question, strategy two get the conversation flowing with engaging questions and strategy three, ask for someone’s advice or opinions.

Now it’s time for you to practice. I would love for you to share some of your favorite small talk questions.

And then I have a second challenge for you. After you share your small talk questions below the video, look at the questions other people ask and practice answering them.

Not only will you learn a variety of small talk questions to help make your conversations successful, but you’ll also get practice in how to answer them as well.

If you found this week’s lesson useful, I would love to know, and you can tell me in three simple ways, number one, give this lesson a thumbs up here on YouTube and subscribe to this channel so you never miss one of my Confident English lessons.

Number two, if you know someone else who struggles with small talk in English, share this lesson with them, and you can do that easily by sending it via email or sharing it on Facebook, and finally be sure to practice and share your examples with me.

Have a wonderful week. Thank you so much for joining me. And I look forward to seeing you next time for your Confident English lesson.

It’s time to practice and get comfortable with English small talk questions.

Share your favorite in the comments below.

It may be a question you learned from today’s lesson or a question you’ve learned previously. I’d love to hear your examples.

After you share, review comments from others in the Confident English Community to learn more small talk question options.

Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!

~ Annemarie

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