Having to make small talk shouldn’t be a torture

If you attend any meeting, training day, business event, or even just have a coffee break with colleagues, you will be subjected to one of the most common forms of torture in the modern working world: Having to make small talk.

Well, maybe calling it “torture” is a bit harsh. It can be enjoyable, but for many people it is indeed a challenging aspect of their professional life. After all, you have to find topics of conversation that interest everyone involved.

At the same time, its’ recommended to avoid any controversial topics and too much debate (something the French love, Americans not so much). And the aim is to keep the conversation going so that there arent’ too many awkward silences.

With so much pressure, its’ easy to feel like you just want to run to the restroom and hide. This may be especially true if your’e making small talk in English and its’ not your native language.

To help save you from melting into a puddle of your own nervous sweat, heres’ how to recover from three common small talk minefields.

The baby talks

You ask “So when are you having the baby?”She replies “I’m not pregnant.” First, shame on you for asking. Just dont’ ask it, even if the woman is clearly 8.5 months pregnant. If she wants to bring up the topic, shel’l work it into the conversation, maybe by causally saying “Once the baby is born…” or “After I come back from maternity leave…” But, if you forget and accidentally spit out “Whens’ the baby due?” when there is no baby, you can maybe recover with a sincere “Oh, sorry” and change the subject as quickly as possible!

The political talks

Your conversation partner asks you directly “So what do you think about Donald Trump?” (or any other controversial subject). I actually got asked that exact question by an American at a dinner party… If your’e lucky, you will have picked up on the other persons’ feelings on the subject and can avoid being too disagreeable. If however, the question really comes out of nowhere, try giving an outside opinion. I responded with “Well, in Europe, they think hes’ the next anti-Christ” and the conversation just moved on to another, safer subject.

The gossip talks

After a meeting, you complain to your colleague Fiona that Marks’ sales forecast presentation was awful. Thats’ when Mark taps you on the shoulder because he heard everything you said. The best you can do here is apologize and turn the discussion into a constructive feedback session. If Mark wants to improve his presentation skills, hel’l listen. Try moving into smoother waters by saying, “Well, it wasnt’ awful, I was exaggerating, but I do think maybe you could reduce the text on your slides to make them easier to read” (or some other piece of honest advice you can give poor Mark).

These are just a few tips for some specific situations. More generally, avoid asking questions that are too personal until the other person brings up the subject. Dont’ look for full-on confrontation–its’ small talk, not an ideological debate. And avoid complaining. Find something positive to say, even if its’ just “I’m glad the meetings’ finished, now we can chat over the coffee break!”

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An American living in France since 2004, Christina coaches clients to better communicate in English through face-to-face and distance training programs. With her YouTube channel Speak Better, Feel Great TV, she is on a mission to boost the English level of French people everywhere. If youv’e got a presentation in English soon, youl’l definitely want to sign up for her Speak Better, Feel Great Newsletter to receive free video lessons each week!