How to get down to business from the small talk

You’ve come to get a contract negotiated or your employment terms agreed, yet you’re sitting there discussing the joys of swimming versus running. (Swimming.  Full of joys.  Running?  Haven’t done that since I was chased by muggers in 1992).

Small talk is vital before getting down to business.  It helps you to connect with others before doing business with them.  Since we tend to want to work with those we like and trust, small talk oils the levers.

Sometimes, though, it can feel like you’re stuck in chat mode

In the UK, we can make the small talk into a 20 minute conversation before you ever get on to business.

Meanwhile, privately, one or both parties is thinking “When’s the right time to talk about work?”.  Another inner voice is saying through gritted teeth, “It’s NOW, dumbo!”  ?

Yet, 15 minutes later, you’ve just finished talking about your persistent colds, and the current talking point is the best app to file receipts.

That was never the aim, for either of you.


Effective Communication Skills in the Workplace


So here are some gentle ways to elegantly progress the conversation that’ll meet the objectives of your meeting.


How to steer small talk to business talk:

1. Firstly, respond to whatever the other person has said.  This could simply be a laugh or a look of sympathy.  (If you get them mixed up, this could shorten the meeting dramatically….)

This might be verbal.  For example:

“Ah, these tissues are so small.”

“Yes, mansize tissues should be the standard size otherwise it’s like blowing your nose on a ring pouch.”

“Traffic was terrible today”

“It’s quicker to crawl to work”

“… With shackles on…”


2. Using matching, then suddenly mismatch. So, if the other person is leaning back, you may lean forward to indicate a change in tone.

3. Use reflecting back, where you play back the same emotion to the speaker, as in the above examples.

Any combination of the above takes a couple of seconds.

It’s not a one act play: more of a moment.

4. Now use these phrases to steer the direction of the conversation.

“So, David, shall we look at the…?”

“Talia, are you ready to…?”

In more direct cultures, use less small talk then add:”So, Adi, let’s talk about….”

If, that feels awkward, the make it a question:”So, Barak, can we talk about…?”

“Now, Isabelle, can I ask you what’s happening with…?”

Usually, you both know the hidden agenda so not talking about it is a waste of time for both of you.

Remember, if it’s about you asking for business or an opportunity, reframing this in your mind can make you less hesitant.

You’re OFFERING your skills and / or services so get that conversation started!


Your Action:

  1.  Look at your calendar right now.  When’s your next meeting?
  2.  Good.  You’ve pinpointed that.  Make sure you have one of these phrases at hand so that you can elegantly get down to business.


Don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss effective workplace skills training for you or your team.

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