In the past I’ve encouraged you to take an active role in small talk and given some ideas for what to talk about. Whenever you engage in small talk there does, of course, come a moment when it has to end. If you start a phone call or meeting with a little small talk you’ll need to make the transition to business at some point. If the small talk comes at the end of a call or due to a chance meeting on the corridor, for example, you’ll want to make a friendly exit after a while.
Small talk is all about building relationships, so the last thing you want to do is demolish them by getting the ending wrong.
Especially in a foreign language there’s the danger of bringing the conversation to a rather abrupt end, simply because you can’t find the appropriate words. And this sudden ending may leave people with the impression that you weren’t really interested in what they had to say.
It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Some people try to link their partner’s small talk to their intended topic. You know the kind of thing: You’re telling a colleague about your last holiday. And she says “While we’re on the topic of holidays, I’d like to talk to you about the conference in Berlin which is immediately after my annual holiday.” That might work in some cases. More often than not it’s rather unnatural and contrived.
But as I see it the greatest disadvantage of such “elegant” transitions is that they take your attention away from the conversation. If you’re desperately trying to decide how what the other person is telling you links in with what you want to talk about next, you’re not listening properly.
So my advice would be to forget all the fancy tricks and just keep it simple.
Instead go for gentle, yet clear.
First of all, choose the right moment. Wait for a natural pause or lull in the conversation and use it. Gently! Starting with “Well …” or “Anyway …” signals that you want to move on. Depending on the situation you can then use one of the phrases below to express your wish or intention clearly and politely.
If you received the call:
- Well, what can I do for you?
- So, how can I help you?
If you already know the reason for the call you can say:
- I guess you’re ringing about …
- I’m glad you’ve called. I’ve been meaning to ring you to talk about …
If you made the call:
- Well, the reason I’m calling is …
- Well, Sue, I’m just calling to …
- Anyway, I’m ringing you today to …
- Sue, you’ve probably already guessed why I’ve rung you.
At the beginning of a meeting:
- Ok, everyone, let’s get down to business.
- Ok, everyone. We’ve got a lot on the agenda today, so let’s get started.
- Well, everyone’s here now, so let’s start the meeting.
- If you’d like to take your seats now, please. It’s time to get down to business.
To end a conversation, whether on the phone or in person:
- Oh well, I’d better get back to work.
- I’d love to talk for longer, but I need to be in a meeting in 5 minutes.
- It’s been great catching up with you. Let me know how the presentation goes, won’t you?
- Well, I won’t keep you any longer. I know how busy you are at the moment.
- It’s been great hearing about … . See you at next month’s sales meeting.
I recommend choosing a couple of phrases from each of the categories and making a point of using them in your next conversations. The more you do, the more natural they’ll sound.
Tags: better relationships, Business English, politeness, small talk