Engaging In Small Talk


In today’s episode, I share a simple technique that will help you engage in small talk in the office. Tune in to find out how to start conversations in English. Enjoy :)


Hola amigos y amigas you are listening to the English Made Simple show, this is episode number 1-0-8, one hundred and eight, numero ciento ocho.

Welcome amigos to the English Made Simple show my name is Milena from EnglishMadeSimple.net, how’s it going? What’s new in your world?

Hope you’re doing well! My name is Milena and my new nickname is Meñique. I gave myself that nickname because it sounds cute. Meñique is Spanish for little finger or another word is pinky. Yes that’s another word for meñique….

Ooook, whatever Milena. Can you please keep it professional? Yes I think so.

So, we are still talking about what it is like to work in an office. So let’s keep it serious and professional.

Last week we learnt a little bit about your first day in the office. What to expect on your first day in the office.

That feeling is always a bit awkward – isn’t it? – That feeling you get on your first day of your new job at the company.
I know that feeling all too well.

Right, so you’ve settled in your cubicle, you’ve been introduced to your co-workers, now you are ready to start the day. Start your working day – cool!

Before we start, if you are new to the show, welcome make yourselves comfortable, go back to episode 106 to get yourself familiarized with some office vocabulary. Then come back and listen to this show.

In today’s episode I want to introduce you to something that’s very common when you are working in an English speaking country. It’s common to engage in something called small talk. I also want to share about what’s customary when you are in the office, what to expect in terms of socialising and building relationships with your co-workers.

So get ready amigos, more new vocabulary coming your way.

I will only speak from my own experience working for companies in New Zealand and Australia. I can’t speak for what it is like working outside of these countries as I’ve never worked in the US or the UK. But I assume it would be similar.

Nonetheless, let’s start.

Now that you’ve settled in your new office, it’s time to engage in small talk.

Talk has a silent L – we pronounce it as TALK, not Tolk.

What do I mean by “engage” in small talk? In this case the word “engage” means to participate in or be involved in.

We are ready to engage in small talk.

Regardless if you are an introvert or an extrovert, engaging in small talk is a good way to establish a good rapport with your workmates. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up having a lot in common with that person and then end up being friends outside of work.

As is the case with me. Most of my friends are from work actually. I still keep in touch with them.

To keep in touch is a useful expression to remember, guys – it means to maintain contact.

So let’s carry on muchachos y muchachas!

If you are unsure about how to start a conversation with someone, don’t be, I am here to help – I know starting a conversation with someone, someone being a complete stranger, can be a little bit daunting and intimidating sometimes. And sometimes you don’t know what to say.
And sometimes you have that awkward silence. You are stuck for words.

Yup, it happened to me before, still happens sometimes. It’s quite normal.

What I want to do now, is share a technique with you all that’s easy to follow and that’s going to help you avoid those awkward silences. It’s called the FORD technique. It’s an acronym, F O R D.

F stands for – Family, O stands for – Occupation, R stands for – Recreation, D stands for – Dreams.
In this case Dreams would stand for Aspirations, not your REM dreams – you wouldn’t ask a complete stranger: what were you dreaming about last night? I wouldn’t like to share anything about my dreams, it’s personal, but talking about my aspirations, you know it may be Ok.
I can say a few words about it, I guess.

The FORD technique is a quick and easy method that you can use anywhere with any person regardless if that person is your co-worker or not.

It’s a great way to break the ice, if you will – romper el hielo.

The idea is to have a few questions prepared for each category, memorize the questions and then you should be able to start a conversation, pretty much with anybody.

I would recommend to start with the Recreation category and then Occupation and then the rest. You don’t want to ask things about Family if you’ve just met someone, maybe it’s too personal.

And also, you can start off with questions in the Occupation Category then lead onto the next category. The FAMILY and DREAMS may come much later once you get to know each other well.

So here are some questions and examples for you to consider.

*Hi! My name is Blah, what’s your name?
Then you would shake hands.
*You can begin by asking, whereabouts do you work in Company ABC? Or where do you work in Company ABC? What department are you in?

You can use words like sector, division or department. For example, I work in the IT department. I work in the Marketing sector.

The next question to follow would be: How long have you been working there? How do you enjoy working in Company ABC? Do you like working here? What do you like the most about working here?

Anyway, those were just some ideas to get the conversation going. From then on, you could ask some follow-up questions. For example, how big is your team? How many people work in your department? Who do you report to? Meaning, who is your manager? And so on.

The next time you see this person, you could ask them, Hi Blah, how was your weekend? Did you do anything fun on the weekend?

Yeah it was great, I took my kids to Disneyland.

Great, and then you ask could questions like: wow – that’s exciting, how old are the kids? How many kids do you have?

See, now you’ve ventured into the Family Category and Recreation Category – did you do anything fun on the weekend? Yes I did, I went sky-diving and boom, there! There you have it! Something interesting to talk about!

So, you know what? These questions are pretty harmless. They won’t cause any problems. They won’t intrude on person’s privacy too much and yet you are able to have a friendly conversation.

Ok and NOW let me tell you what is NOT Ok to ask. Don’t ask questions to do with Race, Politics, Religion and things like How much do you earn? These would be too sensitive topics to bring up, and could lead to very uncomfortable conversations. Especially if you are meeting the person for the first time. I would avoid these type of questions.

Alrighty? Cool!

And finally, the examples for the last category of the FORD Technique. D for Dreams – meaning Aspirations.

I would ask the question in this category when you see the person for the second or third time not on your first encounter as it could be a bit awkward.

So you could ask something like: Have you always wanted to work as a Marketing Manager? Have you always wanted to work in the IT department? You know, just a few examples.

Ok! So, what’s the worst thing that could happen when you engage in small talk? Yes, there is a Dark Side to small talk. The Dark Side. El Lado Obscuro.

Well, the worst thing that could happen is that you engage in small talk with a chatterbox! A person who talks a lot! Chatterbox! The person who never shuts up and takes over the conversation at every opportunity and never shuts up – oh yeah I already said that! Never shuts up!

I’ve encountered many of these types in my working career. My husband thinks I am one of those actually. Haha I never shut up.

What you should do in that case is excuse yourself politely and say: Oh gee, I’d love to chat more, but I’ve got a lot of work to do, I better go back to my desk.

Done. It works perfectly.

If you are a shy type, you are not obligated to engage in small talk. However, someone else might initiate it so you better be prepared. In that case, I would advise you to try the Copycat technique.
I have just invented that. Just made it up! It’s very simple. Someone asks you a question and you ask the same question back. Simple!

Let me give you an example: Hey Milena how was your weekend?
Yeah, it was great, how was your weekend?

Ta-da! There you go! There we have it! Then, make yourself a cup of tea, go back to your desk and browse Facebook. That’s it!

At the end of the day, the idea of small talk is to listen and not really talk. Listen to what the other person is saying, listen for any opportunities that may come up, and also the idea is not to ask too many questions. Always let the other person talk and follow up with relevant questions.

Ok…? Cool!

Amigos, I’d like to share some other customs to be aware of, and something that is popular when working for a company of any size.

At some stage in your working career, you will be invited to certain company events such as:

After work drinks, farewell drinks, team building activities, Christmas parties and so on.

It is here when you can start using the FORD technique again when socializing at these events.

Awesome! We are approaching the end of the show amigos.

And remember something, it’s not common to kiss with your co-workers when you greet them. Sometimes people hug to say good-bye if the person is leaving the company and not coming back, but we rarely kiss, or we don’t kiss at all. If you’ve struck up a good friendship with a colleague then yes, you may kiss them on the cheek, otherwise this is not really expected.

So that’s it amigos. I hope you’ve learnt something new in today’s show. I hope you’ve learnt some new vocabulary, hope you feel more comfortable to start a conversation with a stranger.

Cool bananas!

If you’ve enjoyed today’s show, you can let me know by emailing me on hello@www.englishmadesimple.net or simply subscribe, rate and review the show in Itunes. That will really help me spread the message. I do a happy dance every time I see a 5-star review in iTunes. Muchas gracias!
Don’t forget to share this episode with your friends who may also find it helpful.

Thank you for joining me today, you’ve been jamming with Meñique from English Made Simple, until next time, hasta la proxima!

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