“Small talk” – essential skill if you want to be in global trade

Many people are uncomfortable with “small talk”, the so-called relaxed chat that happens when we meet and prior to the real discussion. But it is an essential business tool for global trade. See where you fit:

1. Does small talk feel a bit strange and personal?

You might rather sit in the corner and keep quiet – but walking around the room and chatting is a vital negotiation step – it begins the relationship building. MY TIP – prior to any major trade meetings, take an hour to visit some major memorial, new centre, historic building or tourism stand out. There’s your topic of small talk!


2. But small talk is superficial

Yes, you are right, it is superficial. But the paradox is it is also important. it is about connecting, about seeing how the other person operates, and finally it is about trying to make others feel comfortable. MY TIP – think less about yourself and more about the other person. They might be nervous about small talk too.

3. How do you know what to talk about?

It’s not as hard as you might think – the weather, the last week at work, some family happening, the wonderful meal you had yesterday, what is coming up next week. MY TIP – an easy way to participate in small talk is to ask questions – how has your week been?

4. Small talk is a waste of time

Small talk feels like a waste of time but it is one step towards building relationship. If you make the other person feel relaxed, engaged and interested, they will feel grateful. MY TIP – don’t be too serious, laugh as you say things, keep it lighthearted.

5. Can small talk be risky?

If you keep it light, smile, make eye contact, offer some friendly insight into your world, there is no risk. But if the small talk suddenly shifts to the major topic of the day (before the real discussions have started) then be cautious. MY TIP sometimes you just have to back away. It is not the time for serious stuff.

6. But how do you end the small talk?

Everyone in a crowded room knows that you cannot and should not spend the whole evening with them, so once there has been enough small talk, you should move on and start again with someone else. It’s called “working the room”. MY TIP with a big smile and friendly face just say “really good talking to you and I hope we catch up later on”. Easy.

Thanks to Dr Andy Molinsky for some of the above.


Author: Stephen Manallack

Former President, Australia India Business Council, Victoria and Author, You Can Communicate; Riding the Elephant; Soft Skills for a Flat World (published by Tata McGraw-Hill INDIA); Communicating Your Personal Brand. Director, EastWest Academy Pty Ltd and Trainer/Speaker/Mentor in Leadership, Communication and Cross Cultural Communication. Passionate campaigner for closer western relations with India. Stephen Manallack is a specialist on “Doing Business with India” and advisor/trainer on “Cross-Cultural Understanding”. He is a Director of EastWest Academy Pty Ltd which provides strategic advice and counsel regarding business relations with India. A regular speaker in India on leadership and global communication, his most recent speaking tour included a speech to students of the elite Indian university, Amity University, in Noida. He also spoke at a major Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) global summit, the PR Consultants Association of India in Delhi, the Symbiosis University in Pune and Cross-Cultural Training for Sundaram Business Services in Chennai. He has visited India on business missions on 10 occasions and led three major trade missions there. He provides cross-cultural training – Asia and the west.

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