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Business Spotlight Spezial - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 1/2019 vom 19.12.2019

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Small talk: the key to business success

DEBORAH CAPRAS Deborah Capras is a freelance author, trainer and corporate communications specialist. She’s the author of Small Talk, published by Collins. Contact: deborahcapras@wise-words.com

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn ...

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Richard Branson, British businessman, 1950–


Sue and Anna both work for TopTextTiles. They are colleagues, but are based in different offices. Anna is in Munich, and Sue is in London. They are attending a textile trade fair in Hanover. As well as finding out about new trends in the industry, they will use the opportunity to connect on a personal level — with the help of small talk. They will also make small talk with people from other companies.

1. Start with an introduction (8 points) E

On the first day of the trade fair, Sue and Anna are chatting when Sue spots an old friend. It’s time for introductions. Unscramble the words in bold.


Small talk is not just about talking. You need to use active listening techniques to build relationships. One technique is to use positive expressions to show that you are listening, such as “absolutely”, “really” and “that’s interesting”. Listening carefully will help you to CONNECT!

2. The problems of traffic, trips and the weather (6 points) M

The weather is often a good topic of small talk, and so, too, are traffic and trips. Rearrange the words to create questions to talk about these things. The first word is correct.


Small talk is about making connections. People often connect when they discover that they have experienced similar things. Highlight what you have in common with expressions such as “Same here”, “Me, too” or “And you?”. Making connections is easier when you RELAX!

3. Enjoy food, drink and eating out (8 points) M

When you’re a guest of international business partners, it’s best to show interest in the local food. If you are the host, try to make your guest feel welcome by finding out about their preferences, too. Match the responses to the correct questions.

A. Would you care to join us for lunch?
B. Would you mind if we went somewhere that has vegetarian food?
C. Would you like to sit by the fire?
D. Shall we order the drinks first?
E. Do any of the wines appeal to you?
F. What would you recommend?
G. What do you fancy?
H. Why don’t we have a dessert?

1. Yes, please. I need to warm up!
2. I’m not sure yet. Maybe something spicy!
3. I’d love to. How kind of you! Thank you.
4. I’d rather not drink alcohol during the day.
5. Not at all. I don’t eat meat either, so that would suit me, too.
6. Yes, why not? The apple strudel sounds great.
7. The vegetable lasagne is a speciality here.
8. Good idea. I’m really thirsty.


Socializing in a relaxed atmosphere after work can help build relationships. But this can look very different depending on where you are. In some national and company cultures, people may prefer to keep their personal life private. While in some cultures, people will enjoy a drink and a burger, in others, people may avoid alcohol and meat. For small talk to work, it’s in your interest to find out what is the norm. You should always show RESPECT!

4. Be open to culture and current affairs (6 points) M

Anna tries to talk about recent events with Ron. How they both react to sensitive topics is important for their future personal and working relationship. Complete each sentence with the right word from the box. There are two words that you do not need.










Small talk can be a minefield. You can’t be expected to know everything about your business partner’s culture, so misunderstandings happen. Ideally, you should be careful about making any assumptions or judgements about cultural matters — in particular about family structures, religion, traditions or politics. If you think you may have said something offensive, you can use different strategies to defuse the situation. Politely change the topic or give a good reason to end the conversation and leave. If you want to learn something about someone, then ASK!

5. Highlight your holidays and travel plans (8 points) M

At the end of the first day, Anna is waiting for the bus with Sue. Questions are useful for keeping the conversation going. The words in bold are not where they should be. Put them where they belong.


A question tag can be used at the end of a sentence to ask for confirmation or agreement and to invite a “yes” or “no” response. Open questions — ones that start with “what”, “why”, “who”, “when”, “where”, “which” or “how” — invite longer answers and are useful for keeping a conversation going. But don’t just ask questions. It’s also important to SHARE!

6. Be proud of your interests (8 points) A

Being interested in different topics can lead to interesting moments. Anna tells Sue about a film she saw recently and really liked. Complete the sentences with the correct adjectives.

It was so (A) boring / gripping, and it had such a (B) compelling / dreary plot. Maybe a bit (C) convoluted / simple, so you have to pay attention — but everything is explained in the end. The characters were totally (D) far-fetched / convincing. They were real to me! There are some (E) hilarious / miserable moments, too. My stomach was hurting from laughing so much. And the ending was the best part — (F) dismal / stunning. I loved it. I’m not surprised it got (G) dreadful / glowing reviews on all the websites. Absolutely (H) outstanding / disappointing. You’ll love it, too, I’m sure. I can recommend the film — but don’t bother with the book. I didn’t even finish it.


If you ask one question after another, you may come across as holding an interrogation, not a conversation. Remember to share information to make a connection and to get the conversation flowing. Be open to sharing information about your likes and dislikes. Once someone feels a personal connection, they might be happy to get down to business with you and WORK!

Making a connection: share your interests


Ideally, small talk should lead to better working relationships. It can come before, after or even during business. Take a few minutes to use small talk to learn something more about your business partners — and to share something about yourself. It provides a welcome break from hard work. GOOD LUCK!

7. A final sprint with sports (6 points) A

To end small talk, try to change the focus of the conversation to work topics. Anna tries different ways to do this but Sue keeps going back to sports. Complete the sentences with the missing words or phrases. The first two letters are provided.


1. Start with an introduction

A. world
B. ages
C. time
D. things
E. been
F. pleasure
G. last
H. card

2. The problems of traffic, trips and the weather

A. Are you in town for long?
B. Is this your first trip to Hanover?
C. What’s your hotel like?
D. How was the trip out to the trade fair this morning?
E. What’s the weather like back home in England?
F. How cold does it get here?

3. Enjoy food, drink and eating out

A–3; B–5; C–1; D–8; E–4; F–7; G–2;

4. Be open to culture and current affairs

A. thoughts
B. truth
C. subject
D. discussion
E. mistake
F. need

5. Highlight your holidays and travel plans

A. Do you
B. Whereabouts (Whereabouts? = Wo (genau); hier: Wohin (genau)?)
C. How come (How come? = Warum?; hier etwa: Wieso gerade dorthin?)
D. is it
E. Why
F. Have you
G. When
H. What are

6. Be proud of your interests

A. gripping = spannend, mitreißend
B. compelling = unwiderstehlich, anziehend
C. convoluted = verworren
D. convincing = überzeugend
E. hilarious = lustig, urkomisch
F. stunning = verblüffend
G. glowing = begeistert
H. outstanding = herausragend

7. A final sprint with sports

A. the way (by the way = übrigens)
B. Speaking (speaking of = apropos)
C. Actually = um ehrlich zu sein
D. Funny (funny you should mention… = lustig/interessant, dass du … sagst/erwähnst)
E. Anyway = wie dem auch sei
F. reminds (that reminds me… = hier etwa: bevor ich es vergesse …)


Note: So that you can compare your language knowledge across different areas of business English, all Business Spotlight tests have a maximum possible score of 50 points.



Congratulations! You must enjoy making small talk, as you are already able to master most situations.


Well done!

You are confident in most areas. If you take every opportunity to make small talk with your international business partners, you could soon master the skill. Good luck!



Generally, you did well, but you could do even better. Check your results to see which areas need the most work. Do those exercises again where you didn’t score so well.

Up to 17

Could do better

You’re not a huge fan of small talk, are you? Try the test again to build your confidence. And read through the tips again to help you improve your small-talk skills.

Foto: imago/APress

Illustration: Viktoria Kurpas/Shutterstock.com; Foto: privat

Illustrationen: Viktoria Kurpas, Alex Epha/Shutterstock.com;