Deviled Eggs
Deviled Eggs / anneh632

The Power of Small Talk (6) 
Talk the Talk

NHK CD ラジオ 実践ビジネス英語 2013年4月号   


S: Now, our current vignette begins with some rather strange comments by Umemura Seiji about the weather, which leads to a discussion among the H&B staff about how to make small talk effectively.
What kind of advice would you give on this subject, Heather?

H: Well, I can't claim to be an expert at small talk, but I have read a number of articles over the years with suggestions about what to say and how to say it. One recommendation I particularly liked was to regularly try new things, in order to expand the range of subjects we can talk about.
Experiment with activities like painting a watercolor, the article said, or baking a cake. I put this advice into practice myself just a few months ago. As I've mentioned in the past I can't cook at all, but I got a hankering one day for deviled eggs. So I decided to make them myself and this ended up providing me with several days worth of small talk with my newspaper colleagues. Several of them were quite adept at cooking and my endeavor allowed me chat with them about where to buy certain ingredients, for example, or what their favorite recipes are. Then later when my first batch of deviled eggs turned out pretty badly, of course it did, I could ask them for advice as to what I was probably doing wrong.

S: I see. What other advice have you liked about small talk?

H: Read as much as possible is another one of my favorites and read as many different things as possible: newspapers, magazines, novels, biographies, travel guides, you name it. Even want-ads can be a source of interesting topics. I once saw an ad for people to play characters at a famous theme park in Tokyo. You know those people who walk around in the full body suits and interact with children? That could lead to an interesing conversation about what kind of character different people would like to play and why. What characters they liked as children etc. I'd choose a certain bunny character that I always liked.

S: The conversation in the vignette also covers what topics to avoid, including politics, sex and religion. Now, what do you try to stay away from when making small talk?

H: I try to avoid negativity as much as possible especially when talking to people I've just met. No one wants to listen to a lot of complaining or criticizing. So I try to focus on positive topics and comments.
I also try not to talk too much, which I'll admit can be difficult for the extroverted chatterbox that I naturally am. I really must redouble my efforts to ask lots of questions, particularly open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. If I'm talking to a fellow foreigner, for example, "What's your favorite place in Japan?" Or "What first inspired you to come here?" are much better than "Do you like Japan?"
Asking lots of questions is not only more polite, it works on a purely mercenary level too. I've often heard it said that the person who talks the most dominates a conversation, while the person who asks the most questions controls the conversation, which I certainly believe is true.