How to make small talk

It’s a damn sight easier to accomplish anything with people you know, like and trust.

In this post here, I explain the reasons for getting good at small talk.

As a prelude to starting the talk at hand, it serves to help you understand the motivations, fears and temperament of the people you’re dealing with.

So, whether you’re about to negotiate with them or talk to a newbie in the kitchen, small talk helps the social sealing.


The progress chat

Problem: you ask a colleague how a task is going and they say “Fine”.

You suspect that’s not the full picture but don’t know where to go from there.

    • Where have you stalled?
    • Where are you stuck?
    • What’s the challenge at the moment?
    • What’s going well?


The Building Connection Chat

Problem: you’re in the kitchen and there’s that awkward silence with a colleague you’ve seen around.  You’ve briefly met Martin from Compliance but it’s never gone beyond a tentative head nod.

a) Ask:

    • “So how’s Compliance / HR / Product going?”
    • “What are you working on now?”

(note: maybe you don’t give a crap. That’s not the point. Start with something they can relate to and you’ll pretty likely find something that chimes with both of you.) 

b) Share something small but personal about yourself:

“It’s weird not doing a day’s work in my flipflops with the cat not walking in front of my screen!”

c)  Use the environment:

e.g. Yas! A Cappuccino machine. Somehow though it never tastes as good as when the one I get up the road.


The Elevator Pause

Unless you work in a 109 storey building with a very slow lift, we’re talking quick fillers.  So…

a) Share something small but personal about yourself: “Since Covid, I’m still touching lift buttons with my finger joints.”

b) Mention something that just happened: a road closure, tube strike (Paris, London…).

c) The weather: it’s a cliché but it’s safe. You’ll find that it can often lead into other subjects, although not necessary unless you do work in that skyscraper or the lift breaks down.



a) Film and TV – have you watched anything particularly funny, moving, striking recently?
b) Use the surroundings. For example, you’re in a room with a snooker table. Have they played?
c) “What’s your go-to food or drink?” (in the kitchen).
d) “What did you do at the weekend?”
e) Give a compliment: that can work wonders as long as it’s genuine.
f) Ask people for their advice.
g) Ask how people landed their role.


Your Action:

  1. Next time you go out for a coffee, to buy something in the supermarket or as you go about your daily life, use one of the conversation openers such as remark about the environment or an observation.
  2. See how that conversation melts away the distance between you.
  3. Keep this up: when you’re in a higher stakes situation, striking up conversation will become less daunting.  In fact, you’ll be coming to me and asking how to move on from conversations.


Do share in the comments what you’ve specifically put into action. ⬇️


Photo by Suzy Hazelwood in

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