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EASY ENGLISH: Small talk and difficult topics

Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 3/2018 vom 25.04.2018

Man nennt es Small Talk, doch ist es nicht unbedeutend. Lesen Sie hier, wie es selbst bei schwierigen Themen auf Englisch abläuft und zur guten Beziehung beiträgt.

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Bildquelle: Business Spotlight, Ausgabe 3/2018

is a director of York Associates (www.yorkassociates. co.uk ) and a coursebook author. Contact: mike.hogan@yorkassociates. co.uk

It is easy to think of small talk as being something that isn’t really important. Maybe it’s because of the word “small”. But small talk is a big part of business conversations. Successful relationships are essential for success in business, and small talk can play a key role in developing such ...

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... relationships. You also need to be able to deal with difficult topics when they come up during small talk.

Read the following dialogue. As you do, think about the answers to these questions:
1. Christine uses a three-stage model to make small talk and to keep the conversation going. What are the three stages?
2. What does Christine do when a difficult topic comes up?
3. How does Simone link the discussion to a new topic?


Christine: Hi, Simone. Have you heard about the latest train price increase?Simone: No, what’s happened?
Christine: They’re raising the prices by 15 per cent starting next month.Simone: Oh, I don’t take the train to work. I drive.
Christine: Oh, right. Well, I do take the train to work, and I’m quite annoyed about it. It’s the second increase in two years, and they still haven’t improved their reliability.
Simone: Hmm.
Christine: So, you drive, do you? I guess you’re annoyed by all the roadworks near the office.
Simone: Actually, no. I’m not. I think it’ll be good for the local infrastructure as they’re also building a new shopping centre.
Christine: That’s interesting. So that means it’ll be easier to shop on your way to or from work.
Simone: Exactly! I always lose time on the way home when I have to go to the supermarket in the other direction. I often get home too late to join my classes.
Christine: What sort of classes do you do?
Simone: I do yoga, pottery and taxidermy. They’re great!
Christine: Taxidermy?
Simone: Yes, you know… stuffed animals.
Christine: Oh, I see. Hmm.
Simone: You like animals, don’t you?
Christine: Well, I do like animals. I have two dogs, but I, er, I prefer animals when they’re alive. I’m not sure how I feel about taxidermy as a hobby.
Simone: Well, I like live animals, too. I got into taxidermy when my cat passed away and I missed her so much that I… well, I’m sure you can guess the rest. And now I get to see her every day.
Christine: I see. I’m sure that’s nice. Er, do you mind if I change the topic?Simone: Sure, no problem. On the subject of evenings, how do you like to spend yours?
Christine: Nothing quite so exciting. I do some exercise, watch some TV and maybe read a little.


You can try our exercises on this topic onBusiness Spotlight Audio as well as in our exercise booklet,Business Spotlight Plus . To order, go towww.aboshop. spotlight-verlag.de

Small talk at work: not always easy


Here are the answers to the three questions we asked:

1. First, Christine asks a question (“Have you heard about the train price increase?”). She then listens for key words in Simone’s response (“I drive”). And finally, she comments on these key words with a question (“So, you drive, do you?”).

2. At first, Christine doesn’t react to Simone’s comment about her hobby of taxidermy. After that, she says something neutral before asking Simone if they can change the subject.

3. Simone links the “difficult” topic back to the safe topic of evenings, which they had already started talking about.


Uses of “do”

We normally use “do” in questions and negated sentences.
Do you like football?
• Idon’t like watching tennis. But we also use “do” in positive sentences, to emphasize the point we’re making, especially when confirming or contrasting what someone has just said. Look at these examples from the dialogue:
• Ido take the train to work. (in contrast to the other person, who drives to work)
• Ido like animals. (emphasizing the fact that the speaker likes animals) Note that “do” is also used in combination with various activities: “do sport”, “do pottery”, “do some exercise”, etc.

Useful phrases for making small talk at work

A. Starting a conversation
• Have you heard about…?
• Do you know anything about…?
• What are your thoughts on…?
• I’m quite annoyed/frustrated/ happy about…
• How about you? What do you think?

B. Commenting on a response
• Oh, right.
• I see.
• That’s interesting.
• So that means…

C. Asking further questions
• What do you mean by…? • What sort of… do you do? • Why is that important for you?

D. Avoiding answering
I’m not sure how I feel about that.
• I don’t know much about that.
• I’ve never really thought about it.

E. Changing the topic
• Do you mind if we change the topic?
• On the subject of…, what do you…?
• Anyway, have you heard about…?


Be careful when giving your opinion on topics if you don’t know the other person’s perspective.

Avoid topics that people may have strong feelings about, such as politics, immigration or hunting.

Be aware that there are not many completely “safe” topics and that nearly all topics have the potential to damage relationships or, at least, cause awkwardness.

Don’t interrogate the other person on a topic.

Fotos: privat; Dean Mitchell/iStock.com; Bernhard Förth