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Small Talk: Die Distanz überbrücken

Schlagwörter: Smalltalk, English, Englisch, Geschäft, OWAD

Small talk is best made face-to-face, but it’s not always possible in business. Whether you communicate by phone, video or in online meetings, there’s still room for real-world conversations.

With all the different forms of communication at our fingertips, you may not meet your business partners face-to-face at all. Does that mean small talk should go out the window? Not when you choose to use your voice.

Although e-mail is often the preferred medium of long-distance communication in business situations, it’s not the only one. If the message you want to convey is in any way controversial or sensitive — or open to interpretation — it’s usually best to do it face-to-face. And if that’s not possible, the next best thing is to pick up the phone.

If the message is so sensitive, should you even attempt to add a little small talk? There are two clear choices.

Get right down to business

In my experience of doing business in Germany, there is a tendency to dive head first into a conversation. No preambles. There are pros and cons to this approach of course. While you might feel you get to the crux of the issue more quickly, you can also make the person on the receiving end feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

I’ve often felt like I’ve picked up the phone in the middle of a conversation in such situations. The start was so sudden that it took me by surprise and I missed it completely. Missed the context, missed the name of the caller and missed my cue as I was too busy wondering who on earth was calling me and why to join in the conversation.

By the time I understood what the caller was talking about, valuable moments had passed and my mind was whirling. Often, it’s necessary to talk someone back, so you can re-start the conversation. And understand what the call is all about. That’s why a short prepared introduction with a little small talk on top can help ease into a conversation.

There is a place for diving straight in. Typical call-centre conversations, for example, where you have no interest in building a relationship. As the caller that is. For people working in call centres, that’s another matter. For them, it could be in their interest to build a relationship with the caller. It can help them gain a better understanding of the situation and create empathy on the part of the caller. Done correctly and with skill, it candiffuse any animosity on the part of the caller (if the person is calling about a complaint), and help solve any problems. Done badly however, it can antagonizethe caller and end up causing more problems. That’s why it’s important to know when small talk is appropriate.

Use small talk expertly

The alternative is to ease into a phone conversation by starting with a soft topic or soft banter. In other words, use small talk.

When you can’t see the person you are talking to, it can be more difficult to understand what is being said and why. The lack of body language, facial expressions and gestures can confuse the message. By starting off with small talk you can become accustomed to your partner’s voice. You can then understand what’s being said by the time you get around to the gist of the conversation. Small talk can help you to get used to someone’s voice.

It’s harder to interrupt someone on the phone. Face-to-face, you can in-dictate with your body language that you would like to talk — or leave. On the phone, you can only do this with your voice. (Or by making another phone ring, which you can use as an excuse to hang up. But don’t tell anyone where you got the tip).

Respect the other person’s time, and don’t hang on the phone too long. They’ll appreciate shorter, more targeted calls than someone waffling on for ages off topic. Even when you do engage in small talk on the phone, it’s generally kept shorter than it would be face-to-face. Unless of course, you really hit it off.

When you do make small talk, don’t hog the conversation. Just as you wouldn’t in a face-to-face conversation. It’s important that a phone conversation has built-in safety pauses. These are short moments of silence when you give each other the opportunity to say something. Don’t talk over someone — as soon as yousense that someone is talking, stop. And if you hear the quiet tapping of a keyboard in the distance, you know you’ve gone on too long and overstayed your welcome. Then it’s time to put an end to the conversation.

Kick-start first

There are a few ways to kick-start a call, depending on your relationship with the other person. Here’s one way to start a phone call with someone you know, but who isn’t expecting your call:

• Hi, it’s Deborah here, from Company X. How are you this morning Paul? I hope I’m not calling at a bad time.

• Hi, this is Deborah speaking, Company X. Are you busy?

• Hi, Deborah here. Is this a good time to talk? As you can see, it doesn’t take very much to add a little small talk at the beginning. And by small talk, I mean showing respect and giving the person a moment to understand who’s on the phone.

Open with interest

If you are on the phone, there is probably some distance between you. Use the distance in small-talk openings.

• So, how are things over at headquarters?

• What’s the weather like at your end?

Teleconference with multiple participants

• This is Deborah speaking again.

Or ask:

• Sorry, but was that Joe or Paul?

People say the best relationships areformed face-to-face. But they can also work over the phone as well - if you pay attention to our tips.

Schlagwörter: Smalltalk, English, Englisch, Geschäft, OWAD

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