Succeed in America

Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers. Improve Effectiveness

nara@SucceedinAmerica.com 



One of the most common questions I get from my seminar participants is “How do I begin a conversation at work?” In other words, “How do I start small talk?”  This is a great question because the importance of small talk is huge in business and you need to use it to your advantage.  And if you are a non-native speaker of English, as added benefit, practicing small talk will increase your English language proficiency.

First, what is small talk? Let’s define it. It is non-business related conversation. It is discussing things unrelated to business and work, such as weather, family, hobbies, or weekend plans.

Why making small talk is important? Here is why. You can be the best specialist in the field but,  progress in your career, is highly dependent on your ability to build good working relationships with people at work. Why? Let’s face it — our success depends on people. Small talk is an effective way to connect with people and to build relationships, including relationships at work.

Can you engage in small talk at a business meeting?  Yes, you can, but you need to know when and how.  Here are a few important tips:

1. When. Always make sure you arrive at the meeting a few minutes before start time. You can and should make small talk while you wait for the meeting to start. Dominant word here —“before.”

2. What topics to discuss? You should discuss things unrelated to the meeting (general-interest subjects)  such as weekend plans, weather, family, hobbies, mentioned above, and movies, theater, sports, books, food, travel.

3. What small talk topics to avoid? Generally, avoid any topic that may concern private or personal matters. There are three major topics you should avoid when socializing in the United States: personal finances, politics, and religion.

  • Personal finances: Personal money management in the US is considered to be a private matter. Asking about personal spending or income is considered very rude. Especially, do not discuss salaries or how much another person makes. Matters of general interest, such as prices of gas or groceries would be acceptable. 
  • Discussing politics: Avoid political discussions. Politics is a very complicated and personal topic and is not an acceptable friendly small talk.  
  • Discussing religion: Religion and religious views  are also considered to be a private  and very personal matter and should not be discussed in business environment.

My best piece of advice for polite  small talk  —  always avoid any subject that may be of  an emotional nature.

Here are some more tips and examples:

  1. Look approachable: smile, have eye contact with others, have an upright posture, and open stance.
  2. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation. Say: “Hi, John (Eddie, Laura), how are you?”
  3. Keep a positive, light tone, don’t get too emotional, and listen.
  4. Always finalize a conversation graciously. Don’t simply cut it off. Say something like “It’s been great talking with you.”  “I really enjoyed hearing about…” “I’d love to hear about it when we have another chance to talk.”  “It was nice chatting with  you… (catching up with you…) Or just  say: “Nice talking to you” and smile.

Here are two possible scenarios that suggest techniques for small talk.

1. Gloria arrives a few minutes early for an office meeting. Jayesh, a colleague she knows well is already in the room. 

Gloria:   Hi Jayesh, how are you?

Jayesh: Great thanks, and you?

Gloria:  Well, I’m well. And enjoying the golden fall (autumn) in New England.

Jayesh:  Fall is great.  But I am also looking forward to winter. I love skiing and snowboarding.

Gloria:  The meeting is about to begin. I’d love to hear about it when we have another chance to talk.

2. Jayesh arrives early for a departmental meeting. A colleague from another department that he does not know, is already sitting at the table.

Jayesh:   Hi I am Jayesh. Are you here for the meeting on…?

Peter: My name is Peter, nice to meet you. I am from the Los Angeles office.

Jayesh:  Is it OK if I sit here? 

Peter:  Of course.

Jayesh: How do you find Washington this time of year?

Peter: Very hot, it is hotter than LA (Los Angeles).

Jayesh:  Really? Amazing! Listen, I have a pool party today at my house. If you are free, would like to join us? 

Peter: Sure. Thank you.

Jayesh:  The meeting is about to begin. Let’s talk about it after the meeting.

Listed below are sample conversational  phrases and questions that you can use to start and maintain small talk before a meeting starts.

Can I sit here? Is it OK if I sit next to you?  Is this seat vacant?

Did you get to the presentation on…(related to the meeting)? What did you think?

How are things working out with your new manager? (new boss/new colleague)

Have you been involved in this project before? How is it going so far?

Have you travelled far? How do you find our city? our weather? Is it your first visit?

Which department do you work in?

Did you see/watch football (soccer, basketball) last night?

How was your holiday? 

How did you like Florida (New York)? 

Have you been to this part of the country before?  

Have you been here before?

Want to watch the video on this topic? Click here

 You may also like: Three Vital Tips for Building Confidence in Business Meetings  http://www.succeedinamerica.com/?p=1396 

tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace and educates on Business English and communication across language and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.    

As Carrie Underwood once said, “My cell phone is my best friend. It’s my lifeline to the outside world.” I would add that it is becoming more and more common to make business-related phone calls over a cell phone. However, due to connection s

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pecifics, it may be challenging to sound professional especially if English is not your native language. For this reason, I am providing some samples that you can use in various situations.

Want to watch a YouTube clip on this topic first? Click here.

In this short article, I am going to list some useful and important cell phone phrases.[pullquote] I didn’t catch what you just said [/pullquote]

A fading or weak signal

  • I’m sorry, I’m losing you. Please call back, or can I call you back?  
  •  I can hardly hear you. Please let me call you or call my land line number.
  • You are breaking up. Let me call you back.
  • I am having trouble hearing you. Could you call me back?
  • Sorry – I didn’t catch what you just said.
  • I’m afraid the line is pretty bad. I am afraid that the signal is quite weak now.

A lost call

  • Hi, it’s Gloria again. Sorry I lost you. It appears that we got cut off.
  • Hi, it’s Gloria again. My cell phone dropped the signal.
  • I am driving. We are getting into a no connection zone and I will lose you shortly. Can I call you back in a few minutes?

From: How to Talk on the Phone  — Business English ESL (Phone Etiquette for both ESL and Native Speakers of English in  the Business Environment), Succeed in America Books, 2016. The complete guide can be found on Amazon.

Want to watch  video  on the topic?   Click here.

You Might Also Like These Articles:
When It Is OK and Not OK To Use OK
3 Vital Tips for Building Confidence in Business Meetings 

tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She
 speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.    




 

MeetingShould you improve your effectiveness in meetings? Good idea — how we handle ourselves in meetings is crucial for our careers, personal branding, and professional success. However, shining in meetings  can be very challenging. It can be challenging for anyone but more so when English is not your native language. The good news —  it can certainly be fixed. Read on.[pullquote]If you do not verbalize your opinions and ideas, others will think that you don’t have any! [/pullquote] 

To get started,  I want to give you three essential tips that will help you to come across confidently and credibly during work meetings, and thus make more of an impact.

 1. Learn English phrases for different situations, for instance

  • Interrupting politely (such as  May I have a word?)
  • Commenting (I never thought about it that way before)
  • Politely disagreeing (I understand where you’re  coming from, but…), 
  • more — 

     I will provide more examples in the upcoming episodes. This will also  help  you a lot in overcoming extra challenges related to language fluency. 

 2. Speak up and voice an opinion. Don’t be afraid to contribute. If you do not verbalize your opinions and ideas, others will think that you don’t have any; and if you speak up you will come across as a credible and competent person. 

 3. Prepare beforehand.  Keep in mind that “fail to prepare — prepare to fail.”  Being prepared will make you more confident and will help you concentrate during the meeting. Here are three tips on how to prepare:

  • Study the agenda.
  • Check out participant’s LinkedIn  and Facebook profiles.
  • Prepare your own thoughts and questions beforehand. It’s a good idea to put together a checklists of ideas and possible questions you might need to ask or be asked.  This too will  enable you to listen and concentrate more attentively during the meeting.

Stay tuned for the future postings on how to do that with confidence. 

Want to watch video on this topic? Check out this: https://youtu.be/mwPhln_UsUc 

 You might also like this vocabulary tip:

 When It is OK and Not OK — OK Usage


tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace and educates on Business English and communication across language and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black   

We are constantly judged by what we say and how we say it. One of the things that could be in the way of  a favorable image is a heavy accent. That’s when accent reduction comes to the rescue. I actually call accent reduction an “accent makeover”.  Why makeover? Just as accomplishing an image makeover, your unique personality is still there but it is a better you.  The same with an accent makeover.  You still have an accent but your speech  is easy to understand and you articulate your ideas more clearly and persuasively.  And we know how important that is in business and in personal life! There are a number of tips that will help you  effectively reduce your accent.  I will list the top three. 1. When you speak English,  speak slowly.  The faster you speak, the heavier your accent will be. For the average American speaker, the rate is not as fast as , say, in Indian languages.  Here is a quick tip for you – stretch your vowel sounds and your speech will be slower and easier to understand. 2. Enunciate.  Enunciating means producing sounds very distinctly.  Pay special attention to word endings and vowels. 3. Read aloud every day and tape yourself.  Listen to the tapes, critique yourself.  Repeat words over and over.  Remember, accent makeover takes practice. Yes, it could be a lot of work, but your efforts will be rewarded.  If you can express yourself clearly and persuasively, you will build better relationships and achieve your career goals faster.
   
   Sound is the basic element of the spoken language. Out of approximately 1100 sounds among the thousands of  different languages spoken in the world, English utilizes of only about 44 of them.      One can imagine the difficulty in articulating the many different  patterns of speech sounds from ones native tongue into English and, conversely the difficulty of English speakers understanding the colorful though confusing   mispronunciations of foreigners. Especially in business, this may have serious consequences.    There are, however, ways to minimize many of the common pronunciation mistakes that are made by the majority of non-native speakers of English.  Here is the list of seven  mistakes that many English language learners regardless of their language background make.
  1. Intonation. Using the intonation of your native language can distort and confuse the meaning of what is being said. When speaking English, be conscious that the rising or falling pitch of your voice should be consistent with American intonation.
  Tip: Learn and change your intonation to American intonation and you will make your speech more dynamic, understandable  and confident. 2. Rate of speech.   There is a mistaken notion among some non-native speakers that the faster one speaks the more authentic and credible they sound. This is a misconception.  Fast, not even accented speech, may be misunderstood even by speakers of the same language. However, many of us speak too fast. Some factors that influence how fast we speak are characteristics of the individual, familiarity with the subject, and emotional state. This is especially true for speakers of Indian languages where rate of speech is much faster than in English. Tip: speak slower to make your speech more understood and … enunciate.  This brings me to my next point. 3. Enunciating. Pronounce words distinctly, in other words, enunciate.  While speaking, concentrate on enunciating each sound. This brings me to another important point. 4.Grammar sounds.  If you mispronounce or drop word endings, your speech will be unclear.  It will sound uneducated, unprofessional, and your listener will be distracted by mistakes you make. Many non-native speakers know grammar well. But when it comes down to pronouncing the forms correctly, that’s when they fail. ELL and ELS speakers of English are often unaware or take lightly the importance of basic English grammar pronunciation and intonation of words and mispronounce and drop word endings primarily in the following cases:
  1. regular past tense verbs such as used, started, changed
  2. 3rd person singular present such as speaks, walks, talks
  3. regular plural count nouns such as friends, cars, sisters,  and
  4. possessive nouns such as Mike’s, Rick’s, Isabella’s
  Tip: Remember, noun and verb endings change the meaning of a sentence. Make sure you practice grammar sounds to improve the clearness and professionalism of your speech.   5. Long and short vowel distinction.  For instance, pronouncing long vowels as short. Here is how it can change the meaning.  “Sheet” – a common word used in business English (as in sheet of paper, spreadsheet).  Don’t pronounce the long /i:/ and you will have the entire room full of people trying to suppress the smile (“shit” is not “sheet”!).  Many Russian speakers make this mistake. Tip: if you find it difficult to pronounce long and short sounds, try to find a synonymous word (for instance, “page” in case of “sheet”), and, whenever appropriate,  use it instead.     6. Mispronouncing diphthongs.  As a rule, ESL speakers pronounce the diphthong as a single vowel missing the second part.  Forinstance, [no] instead of [nou], [ska] instead of [skai].  These can be very confusing to native speakers who do not recognize that  two letters together are pronounced as one single sound.    7.  Substituting one sound for another.  For instance, Spanish speakers may substitute /sh/ for /ch/.  For instance, “cheat” versus “sheet.”  A native speaker might hear cheat  in place of sheetTip: Find out which words you mispronounce more frequently and practice how to pronounce them correctly. I will not exaggerate if I state that if you eradicate or even minimize these seven types of mistakes, your speech clarity will improve by 80 percent;  and you will make  your speech more clear, confident, and credible to the listener.