How to talk to Americans

One of the main ways Americans connect with each other is through small talk. We make small talk with friends, co-workers and complete strangers. Small talk uses inconsequential conversation to build rapport with someone. The subject of small talk might be the weather or plans for the upcoming weekend or a television show. It doesn’t go deep, but it allows people to create a light, friendly feeling with each other. It’s a way of establishing common ground, if only for a few minutes, and Americans greatly prefer small talk to silence.

To some people small talk comes naturally. If that’s not true for you, I can work with you to develop the skill. Whether you’re at a networking event, a social event or a company event it’s good to be able to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Most Americans like to chat, so I encourage you to practice making small talk as often as possible until you feel comfortable with it. Here are just a few questions you can use to start a conversation with someone you don’t know.

How did you find out about this event?

What do you do?

How did you get into that line of work?

Do you live in the area?

Are you originally from [whatever city you’re in]?

How long have you lived here?

How do you know the host of this event?

Or point out your favorite thing about the event so far (food, decorations, speeches, location, etc.) and ask the other person what they like about the event.

Many times you only have to ask a few questions before you and the other person find a topic of mutual interest, after which the conversation flows more naturally.

While memorizing questions is a good way to learn to make small talk, I think another important strategy is to simply give yourself permission to ask things you’re curious about. If I’m talking to a chiropractor, I might say, “I’ve always wondered: what’s the difference between a chiropractor and a physical therapist?” Or if I find myself talking to someone who just made a speech, I might ask a question that’s been on my mind since I heard their remarks. Or if I go to an event and meet five realtors in a row, I might ask the fifth one, “So what makes you different from other realtors? What’s unique about your services?” These are questions I would honestly like to know the answers to. Give yourself permission to ask such questions because sincere questions are always better than ones you don’t really want to ask.

My clients regularly practice the art of small talk with me and with others. We work on small talk until it becomes a comfortable skill that they can use whenever they need to make a good impression. Being able to make small talk is priceless in the American workplace as well in personal relationships and you will never regret learning how to do it well. Memorizing questions like the ones above is a start. The rest comes from practice, and you can’t do too much of it.

Contact me to discuss details about learning how to make small talk.