9 Tips for Better Small Talk

For many, the idea of engaging in small talk can seem as appealing as a trip to the dentist:  "How's the weather?", "What was the traffic like?", "How's it going?".  If any of these interludes make you cringe, don't worry, you're not alone.  

Turns out the reason we don't like small talk isn't because it's awkward (though it can be), it's because we all prefer creating deeper connections with people.  However, you can't create better connections without going through a little small talk first.  Reframing it this way it might help you the next time you're engaged in idle banter.  

Think of it not as SMALL talk, nor as the BIG talks reserved for those closest to you, but rather as OTHERTALK. We've created this module using the anagram OTHERTALK, to help you recall the lessons.  As you're navigating through your next "small talk" remember OTHERTALK and watch yourself turn it into a more meaningful conversation. 


In each section we have included examples, questions, or comments to encourage better "small talk" conversations with your customers.  In the spaces provided below please write one or two examples of your own to let us know you understand the section topic.


OPEN-ended questions keep the conversation flowing.  Yes or No questions will kill a conversation before it's started! Frame your questions in a way that will maintain the flow of the conversation and keep your customer talking.

For example, instead of asking, "How is your day going?" ask "How did you first become a customer?" or "What other products do you enjoy?"


TEACHING opportunities are in every interaction.  Be curious about people. As mentioned in the above example, conversations keep rolling when you let others share.  You'll find your interactions more enjoyable for both parties when you're fully engaged.

Feel free to ask questions of interest on unfamiliar topics.  Such as, "I've never been to Atlanta, what's your favorite quality of the city?" or "I see you've ordered our xyz product several times.  I haven't yet tried it, what were your impressions?"


Honesty is always the best policy.  A great interaction comes from finding mutual connections. The best way to connect is through honesty. Break down the wall by sharing something about yourself; they will see you as someone who is in their corner.

If someone mentions they're having a bad day perhaps you might say, "Boy, I understand. I had a really bad day this week, they're no fun.   I hope your to improve your day." 


Empathize with your customers, understanding that they feel awkward with small talk too!  You are not alone in feeling shy or clumsy in small talk scenarios.  Next time there is an weird silence, find a way to break the ice.

Find one of the OTHERTALK questions we've talked about in this module. Use it to release the tension and put more lightness into the interaction. 


Read a section or two of the newspaper, watch a segment of a morning program, subscribe to a topical blog or podcast and find great conversation starters! Keep two or three in your back pocket and you'll never search for something to talk about.

If you're on a long hold perhaps fill the silence with, "Did you hear about...?" or "How about...can you believe that?" or maybe "I read an article this morning that....did you hear about that?"


Take tips from good conversationalists.  Listen to senior CSRs and Managers, and copy how they handle customer conversations. Pay attention to talkshow hosts, emcees or real people you admire. Try replicating what they do.

Consider, what questions do they ask? How do they keep people engaged? How often are they talking vs listening?  Listen and learn.


Ask the golden question - "What can I do to make sure you are happy with our service?" When dealing with frustrated customers, it's never enough to just solve the problem.  The point is to find out what would make them happy. All you have to do is ask!

People will always appreciate you asked and will leave the interaction feeling better.  Try these, "How can I improve your overall feeling about my service?", "What could we have done better?", or "What could we do to make sure you refer us to your closest friends?"


Lift your customer up!  People always remember how you make them feel.  Try to make your customers feel a little better for having spoken with you. Boost your customers' moods and good feelings by celebrating or flattering them.

Next time someone seems down send a compliment their way - "You have such a beautiful name!", "I've always wanted to visit (their city).  I've heard it's amazing", "You have really good taste..I love your choices!"


Know who your customer is.  Show interest.  Make it your goal! When you're not interested in your customer, it shows. When you don't care, conversations fall flat and can lead to negative feelings.

Take a sincere interest in who they are - ask questions, let them speak more, give signs of interest in your responses such as, "Oh really!", "Wow, I didn't know that", "That is so interesting". 

Thank you!

Thank you for taking part in this module. Attached in your original email is a downloadable quick reference guide for you to keep at your desk .  Please answer the one-question survey below to let us know your thoughts on the information provided.

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