In previous programs we already talked about why it is important to be able to manage Small Talk situations even for business people. Now it’s time to take a look at a few concrete examples and see what this means in practice.
Remember: not any topic is ideal for small talk, but there are a lot of topics that work well. Sport is one of them. So, let that be the topic of this sample conversation.
Sample conversation ONE:
A: Did you see the match last night?
B: No, actually I didn’t. Did you?
A: Yeah, I did, it was a great match. We won. Are you into watching sport?
B: Well, not so much now. But I quite liked football when I was younger. I don’t watch much of it today. I guess you like sports, don’t you?
A: Yeah, I do. I actually used to be a basketball coach.
B: A basketball coach?
B: Aha, and where did you play or train?
A: Well, I started here in a small Barcelona team and then coached a couple of other teams too.
B: Nice. I don’t know much about basketball. Are there good teams here?
Small Talk_Sport (1)
Sample conversation TWO:
A: Did you see the match last night?
B: No, I didn’t.
A: It was a great match. We won. Are you into watching sport?
B: No. But I liked football when I was younger. I don’t watch much of it today. I guess you like sports.
A: Yes, I do. I used to be a basketball coach.
B: And where did you play or train?
A: I started here in a small Barcelona team and then coached a couple of other teams too.
B: I don’t know much about basketball. Are there good teams here?
Small Talk_Sport (2)
Taking out some words makes things sound different
The first thing you have probably noticed is that the tone is slightly different in Conversation TWO. It sounds less lively. It seems like the participants are less interested in talking to each other.
Now this is partly because I removed some words, and I used an intonation which makes the speakers sound less interested.
There are some elements missing in the second conversation, so it is somewhat shorter than Conversation ONE. I left out some words and expressions that may look kind of unimportant, but in reality they are important and they do have an important function in light, casual conversations.
Speaker A starts both conversations with a question: “Did you see the match last night?”. Asking a question is a typical way we can start a conversation.
- In conversation ONE Speaker B replies: “No, actually I didn’t. Did you?“
- In Conversation TWO Speaker B simply replies: “No, I didn’t.”
Both are correct, but the second answer sounds less friendly for two reasons:
- using the word actually makes things sound friendlier, because what you say sounds less “direct”. (Note (!): “actually” doesn’t mean “now”. It means “in fact”).
- asking back with “Did you?” is like returning the same question to the person who asked the original question, and it’s a nice way of suggesting “Hey, I’m interested in what you were saying, even though I myself didn’t see the match, but that’s okay, tell me about it.”
If you only respond “No, I didn’t” the other speaker may not know if you are interested in talking about the match or not. The other speaker may think “Okay, well maybe this question about the match is not such a good one after all, or maybe my question is not about such an interesting topic.
If you add “Did you?” after “No, actually I didn’t”, then you are keeping the conversation open to more talk about this topic.
Other elements that may seem insignificant when left out, but which do help to make a conversation sound friendlier:
- don’t you
To A’s question “Are you into watching sport?” B answers “Well, not so much now. But I quite liked football when I was younger. I don’t watch much of it today. I guess you like sports, don’t you?
We know speaker B is not really into watching sport now, but in the past it was he or she was. Even though the answer implies that “I’m not interested in watching sports now, but at the same time he or she mentions the past, which is a nice way of contributing to the conversation by bringing into the conversation a personal experience. This sounds positive and makes the other speaker understand that I am interested in talking about the topic even if I do not watch sports today.
Notice too that B in Conversation ONE asks the question “A basketball coach?” in response to A saying “I actually used to be a basketball coach.”
Is B’s question a real question? It looks like one, but it isn’t. It is a “false question” whose purpose is simply to express surprise and interest. Notice that this is missing in Conversation TWO.
In summary: Conversation TWO sounds more like a qustions-answers type of conversation, while Conversation ONE sounds more engaging, thanks to the small elements that we usually use in English Small Talk.