Topics for small talk and what makes them good or bad?
Topics for small talk – which ones and what makes them good or bad?
Last time I told you about Small Talk – When? With Whom? This week I’m telling you which topic to choose and what makes it good or bad concerning small talk. This is the third part of a 5-week training course on small talk. You can download a free pdf workbook for the 5-week training course here.
As you probably already know Yvette and I are English language trainers and in our communication courses we’re often asked what are good topics for small talk. In order to answer that question, we need to establish what actually makes a topic good or bad?
What makes a topic good or bad?
Well, for one thing usually you have a conversation with another person, who might be in the same situation but have a different view of it or your counterpart is in a different situation with a different point of view. So, the situation from both perspectives is an important factor. The other factor is how well you know the person you’re talking to. This second aspect is important when considering the topic you’d like to start with.
So, what do you need to be able to choose the right topic?
- Active listening – listen carefully to what your counterpart is saying (check out this blog post)
- Powers of observation
- Cultural awareness
Fortunately, there are some neutral topics, which are very safe:
- The weather (except in Russia, don’t talk about the weather)
- The place you’re both in (trade fair, conference, seminar, hotel, coffee shop, etc)
- The event you’re both attending (concert, conference talk, meeting, etc)
But, why are they neutral?
- No one is responsible for the weather
- You have mutual interests if you’re in the same place or attending the same event
- Building on common ground is easier
Okay, now that you know the neutral ones lets start off with good or bad topics.
In the workbook you’ll find a page about small talk topics. You can download the free pdf workbook here. Under the topics there is a line with a plus in an arrow head on the right and a minus in the arrow head on the left. This exercise is made for you to write in the topics according to your own perceptions. Yes, your own perceptions, because everyone is unique. I do this exercise with my students in the course and every time there are differences in their perceptions of good or bad topics. As it depends on your own interests as well.
Here are a few topics to get you started:
- Family – with this topic you should be careful of cultural differences, e.g. Italians love to talk about the family, Germans talk about it too, however with less enthusiasm. And the French don’t start with it, unless you already know each other.
- The news – this can be both good and bad, depending on the news topic, the person involved and the situation.
- Your country – big topic, but choose what you want to talk about carefully and then it’s a safe topic e.g. tourist sights or geographical descriptions. Do not engage into political or religious aspects unless you know the other person.
- Religion – normally this is a no-go topic. However, as long as it’s not personal it does not have to be a no-go topic, e.g. sightseeing – historical sights, talking about celebrations. If someone is interested in it , it’s OK.
- Clothes – depending on where you are, it can be a real ice-breaker, e.g. at fashion shows. You can make a positive or neutral comment about someone’s clothing or accessories.
- Your health – the best answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine and you?’ avoid talking about illnesses and details only your doctor or spouse should know.
- Politics – this is not a topic you should start off with, but it could come up in later conversation. As long as you remain tolerant, everything is OK.
- Sport – good topic usually works for people, who are interested in it and who do it.
Ready for some more?
- Food and drink – honestly, one of my favourite topics! I’m a real foodie, possibly that’s why I think it’s very easy to talk about it.
- People you both know – be careful with this one, it can be both good and bad.
- Work – this can even be a neutral topic, depending on the person you are talking to, though.
- Your holiday plans – usually a good topic, however, it’s safer to ask about your counterpart’s holiday plans first.
- Television – can also be a good topic as long as the other person is interested in TV or films.
- Weekend activities – depending on the activity, it’s usually a good topic to start off with.
- Celebrity gossip – now this topic really depends on if you and the other person are interested in the gossip or not.
- Social media – If your counterpart is into social media or active on social media then it is a good topic, even if you’re not, you can still learn a lot about it.
The list goes on, there are many more topics for small talk. Which is your favourite one? Let me know your thoughts.
Of course, you can just schedule a call with me and tell me . Click here to schedule a call now!
Most importantly …
… you decide if the topic is good or bad and you make it a good or bad topic in your conversation. How can you do that? Well, you need to be …
- and truly interested.
One more thing
We’d like to thank you for tuning in and downloading the podcast. We’d love to hear more from you. Most importantly you can help us by rating us on iTunes and if you like leave a review. By doing that you’ll help us get a bigger reach. We know that rating us takes up your time and that’s why we’ve decided to raffle three books among all of you who rate us on iTunes.
All you have to do to take part is to rate us and leave a comment. Make a screenshot of your rating and comment and send it to us either by email or as a DM on Instagram.
These are the books you can win: Atomic Habits by James Clear, Denglish for Better Knowers by Adam Fletcher and Paul Hawkins and Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker. You can participate throughout February 2019. We will make the draw on 5 March 2019.