Global Mingle Party | A simple trick to master small talk: The 3 “W”s
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A simple trick to master small talk: The 3 “W”s

Lots of people hate small talk. Even Americans. But it’s a required part of American culture to have conversations. Think of small talk as the bridge to conversations. Small talk helps people ease into a conversation. It’s polite conversation without much commitment. It gives people time to get used to one another before discussing business or more meaningful topics.  Most interviews and networking events will start with small talk. Small talk isn’t so bad once you start doing it. You can often predict what Americans will talk about when you first meet. Remember the 3 W’s: Weather, Work, Weekends.

Weather

Weather is the most common small talk topic but also the most boring. It’s easy for everyone to discuss it because everyone experiences it. When it’s hot, when it’s cold, when it’s beautiful outside, people will comment.

Here’s how you can respond to weather talk:

Stranger: “It’s so hot out today.”

You: “Yes it is, I’m looking forward to Fall’s crisp weather!”

OR

Stranger: “It’s so cold today.”

You: “Yes, but I love a fresh snowfall” (if that’s not true say, “It is and I’m really not looking forward to the snow”

OR

Stranger: “It’s freezing outside!”

You: “It feels like it. I wonder how cold it is.”

This might lead to a guessing game.

Even though it feels pointless, your ability to talk about something is boring as the weather is a sign of your willingness to continue the conversation and build a quick relationship.

Work

Americans value productivity. In many regions in the US, people will ask “What do you do?” before even knowing your name. This is a challenge for international students as school is not a job. To answer the question, lead with “I’m learning to…” or “I’m interested in….” Fill in the blanks with subjects that you study or the industry you want to work.

Here’s how a conversation might go:

Stranger: “Hi, I’m John, Marketing Director at Amazon. What do you do? ”

You: “Hi, I’m Muriel, and I’m a student at the University of Washington. I’m learning how to design better websites and improve user experience in my studies.”

OR

Stranger: “Hi, I’m John, Marketing Director at Amazon. What do you do? ”

You: “Hi John, I’m Muriel. I’m a student right now and I’m interested in technology trends like the Internet of Things.”

By telling them what you’re interested in you can guide the conversation in a direction that is familiar to you.

Weekends

Americans love talking about weekend plans (probably because we work too much). At the beginning of the week we ask what each other did over the weekend. By Wednesday we ask about upcoming weekend plans. If you are stuck on what to say during small talk, you can always inquire about weekend plans and share yours.

Here’s how a conversation might go:

You: “Do you have anything excited planned this weekend?”

Stranger: “Yes, I’m headed to NYC for a weekend with my friends.”

You: “That sounds like fun. Are you seeing anything in particular or just hanging out?” Stranger: “There’s a Broadway play that just came out and we’ve got tickets.”

You: “I hear NYC is lovely in the fall. I am planning to go down there in the next month as well.”

Stranger: “It is, it’s my favorite season in the City! You should visit (insert recommendation here)”

Asking people you have just met about their weekend is an easy way for you to start the conversation. Be curious!

Now that you know of the three W’s, practice using them! Remember small talk is the start of conversations, not the full conversation. You will have plenty of time to be interesting once you get comfortable with small talk.

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