I feel a little small talk can go along way to setting a friendly tone. I had a client once who was assigned to me by the manager to learn how to make small talk in emails and phone calls. My client said, “I don’t know why I was asked to improve this when my client doesn’t make small talk with me. Should I really do it?”
Then, in the coaching conversation, I asked two questions:
- What prevents you from making small talk?
- Does it hurt to try?
After several sessions on dos and don’ts with practice, I left it to the client for two months to try it on their own. In the three-month follow up, when I asked how it was going, my client said:
“Wow it’s going great! I feel so much more relaxed with my client. It’s like we can have conversations about work, even stressful stuff. I feel so much more at ease. We understand each other better.”
So, what did my client do differently? My client only spent two minutes in the beginning and end of each call making small talk – for a grand total of not more than 5 minutes! When I asked how it went, my client said:
Well, at first I was nervous to make small talk because my client never did it. I just asked a few simple questions like “How are you today?", "How was the commute?" or “How was your weekend?” or “How’s your morning?” depending on when I called and the day of the week or time of day. To end the call, I just would say, “Have a nice day.” or “Have a nice weekend.” If I got brave, I’d ask, “So any plans this weekend?” At first she was shy to talk back. I was shocked as she’s older than me, and English is her only language. But, she did make small talk with me. It set a happier tone for the call. We smiled more.So, I asked my client, “What do you think about this experience? How do you feel?” My client responded by saying,
Well, I actually am nervous to say this but I think my client was just as nervous as I was to make small talk! Maybe she could have been worried to say the wrong thing just like me, though she’s older than me! It wasn’t easy for me to break the ice, but I am so glad I did. That little bit makes such a big change! I am shocked but happy. Thank you!
After this interaction, my client’s customer satisfaction scores improved and my client was able to take on more challenging client roles.
Jennifer Kumar provides cross-cultural business communication and business coaching for global, dispersed teams. Learn more about individual coaching or classroom programs on small talk and meeting management with US counterparts.
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