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How to Make Small Talk With American

Clients & Colleagues


While small talk is important in both US and
Indian business cultures to build rapport and
trust, the appraoch, dos and don'ts and
acceptable topics differ. And while both
cultures may define small talk differently,
there are common aspects. The most common
aspect or goal of small talk is to break the
ice, not sound so robotic, and to be
conversational. All it takes to improve this soft-skill is just a few small
sentences, questions, observations, or interactions to get off on the right foot.

Here are three things to keep in mind while attempting to make small talk with
your American counterparts:
1. What can we say or ask?
Are you calling on a Monday? If so, ask, How was your weekend, did
you do anything fun?

Are you calling after a vacation? If so, ask, Last time we talked, I
remember you said youd be taking a trip to Florida for your vacation. How was
it? What did you do?

Are you calling after an American holiday? If so, ask, Oh, it was
the Fourth of July recently. Did you see fireworks or go on a picnic? How did
you celebrate Independence day?

Are you calling on a Thursday or a Friday? If so, ask, Do you have


anything interesting planned for the weekend? or Its Friday, anything fun in
store this weekend?
Maybe you call everyday. If so, always open the conversation with any one of
these conversation starters:

Hows it going?
Having a good day?
How are you today?
Is anything interesting happening today?
Hows things in the office?
Hows the weather?
"How did it go?" (Process related question)

Invariably, people love to ask about, and then complain about the weather!
People may talk about how the weather prevented them from having fun or how
in a miracle of miracles, the weather cooperated with them for their outdoor
events.
Always try to follow up on their answer by asking another open-ended question
or make a statement, such as Wow, that sounds like fun! or You went to St.
Louis. In which state is that? or You drove to yourvacation spot. How far is
that from your home? Be creative in your follow up question. Feel free to ask
one or two, but not very personal ones about relations. Stick to the facts or
events that were already referred to and get clarification.
2. Think about the word choices
American English uses different words and idioms than Indian English.
Sometimes, some words used in India will befuddle or totally confuse an
American. For instance, two good examples are using the word weekend and
not holiday for Saturdays and Sundays (non-working days), and using the
word vacation or days off instead of out-of-station.
3. Be aware of non-verbal behavior
Always:

Sound interested.

Sound upbeat and happy. Talk with a smile!

Vary the sound of your voice. Do not sound monotonous or like a


computer.
If you are unsure how you sound non-verbally, a good tip is to record yourself
and listen to it later. While its true many of us shudder at the thought of hearing
our voice through a recording device, its an important exercise. Doing this
helps us hear how our voice sounds, and if dont sound as we want to be
perceived, it may be time to work on enhancing our voice.
4. Listen for filler words and expressions.
Though business conversations with Americans may sound task oriented, I
challenge you to record a few conversations with your clients or customers to
review their speech patterns. There are many kind of filler words, questions, or
statements that are said. This banter is done to show compliance, express
disagreement, express enthusiasm and motivate and team spirit, decide on the
work flow, to clear confusion, review or refresh ones memory on the previous
or present topics, among many other reasons for banter. To say banter is
exclusive to American business conversations is also a fallacy. If one becomes
aware of business conversations in ones own native language, surely banter
exists there too. Is there a way to transfer this banter to your conversations with
your American counterparts? Banter helps take the edge off of always serious

conversations, brings in feeling and helps us relate to each other better.


If youre wondering how to find the right words to say to an American, the best
solution to this problem is shadowing. Shadowing is a communication
technique where we pay close attention to the others non-verbal and verbal
choices and mimic or copy them. What words are they using? How are they
using these words? Try using the same words and phrases with other
Americans. To relate best to anyone, shadowing (also known as mirroring)
works wonders. If there is any doubt about this, just remember back to your
college days. How did you relate to your peers? Probably one way was by
learning your peers slang or word choices and naturally mimicking them and
using them in everyday conversation. This is mirroring, and you already know
how to do it!
Practice does make perfect. Always remember that you already follow these
techniques in your native language. But, if you are not using English as a
conversational language, you will have to practice voice modulation, getting the
right flow, showing emotion while talking and, if necessary, even pronunciation
adjustment. Thinking of English as only an academic or professional language
is a big barrier here. Start trying to use English in more places where you have
to express yourself, and put feeling into your words. Dont hesitate to be bold
and ask for help.

*Take note that the phrases and questions here in are written in a
conversational style; which may or may not always be grammatically correct.
These phrases are based on the authors experience living in northeastern
parts of the United States. Though greetings across the country may be similar,
word choices may differ. Pay attention to your colleagues, note their word
choices, and mirror them as appropriate.

Jennifer Kumar offers training programs to help Indians close the culture gap
with Americans in office environments. Contact Jennifer for more information on
the training Introductions, Small Talk and Conversation Tips with Americans.
Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal
interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through
proofreading and editing. She can be contacted here.

How to Impress American


Customers
The tips presented in this article will help
in interacting with American customers. Many tips
can be given as Americans have a particular
mindset which can cause misunderstandings to
those not familiar with the culture.
Here are a few random tips that can help to make an American customer
happy:
1. Tell the customer about the features and benefits IN YOUR OWN
WORDS
An American often would get frustrated and impatient if he/she hears the
customer service representative (henceforth, CSR) repeat something to him/her
word for word from a product manual. If the CSR takes the time to listen to
the customers problem, finds out the cause of the problem in real-time, and
offers solutions based on practical experience from helping other customers
with similar problems, most Americans will be impressed. However, as this is
not possible in all situations, helping the customer to brainstorm solutions,
offering to let him/her talk to supervisors or colleagues, and calling or sending
e-mailsto the customer later with the solutions are ideal. If there is no solution,
an American customer wants to know what can be done next, or if the product
or components of the product can be replaced.
2. Treat the customer like an individual, not as one among the masses
When a customer wants to buy a product and is confused about which model to
buy, help the customer understand which one best suits his/her needs and not
the needs of the thousands of other customers. Ask the customer questions to
learn about what he/she will use the product for and why he/she really wants to
buy it.
While talking to one customer, if there are others waiting to talk to you, dont
talk to them without letting the current customer know that he/she is not
forgotten. Say Excuse me sir/madam, give me a moment, while I talk to these
customers here. I will come back to you. Or, find other colleagues to help with
the other customers while taking care of the current customer. This makes the
customer feel good, and will be more inclined to come back as a customer to
your facility. Otherwise, the customer may think that you are rude.
3. Make sure that the customer is really satisfied
Dont just disconnect the phone or walk away from the customer to manage
other customers without completing your conversation. Ask the customer if

he/she is satisfied, or if there is anything else you can help him/her with. Tell
him/her See you again. Or It was a pleasure to talk to you. Hope we can help
you again with your XXX needs. Please do not assume that the customer is
done just because he/she has purchased your product or told you that that
she/he is not interested in purchasing your product. Ask the customer
questions, or maybe he/she has questions to ask you. Always end with Is there
any further questions I can answer for you? or Is there anything else I can
help you with today? before disconnecting the call or ending your conversation
in the showroom and helping another customer.
4. Dont forget the pleasantries.
Most of what is discussed here are simple cultural
pleasantries that Americans take for granted while
growing up in the American culture. Though they
are habitual and may seem meaningless to some
people, without these habits and behaviors, an
American:

Will feel that something is wrong

Will think that the CSR is not well


trained (which looks bad for the company)

May take it personally and if possible, may


not return to do business with that establishment
again.

Learning how to say thank you.

Responding to thank you.

Polite Ways to Interrupt in English

There are many reasons why a person may interrupt others while speaking.
First and foremost, when interacting with US clients, Indian developers must
learn about the conversational cues. These cues are different in American
English than Indian English. If a lack of understanding of these cues creates a
situation where the only way to interact is to interrupt, it could cause the US
client to get a bad impression of you and your team. If the client is often
interrupted or the team members on the Indian side often interrupt each other,

the American client will get the impression that the Indian team members are
not effective communicators. This will not give a good impression of you, your
team or your business.
The phrases below showcase the polite and impolite ways to enter a
conversation if interruptions are necessary. Use the polite interruption phrases
both with your US counterparts AND with your Indian teammates when on
group calls.
How do we politely interrupt others in English? Below there are phrases to use
and to avoid when interrupting others.

Phrases to Politely Interrupt


Try to use these phrases:

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but...."

"Before we move on to the next point, may I add...?"

"Sorry, I didn't catch that, is it possible to repeat the last point.."

"Excuse me (name), may I add to that...?"

"Do you mind if I jump in here?"

"Pardon me..."

"I don't mean to intrude..."

"While that is an important point, it's also important to add..."


Impolite Phrases for Interruptions
Do not use these phrases:

Wait a minute!!

What was that?


Hold on/Hold up while I say...
Be quiet...
It's my turn to talk...
What are you talking about?
But, I already said....
You're not listening to me... I said....
What did you say?

*Take note the tone of voice is important as the words used.

Making Small Talk Easy

Today, I have stumbled across a video that helps you to learn how to make
small talk with any American with an easy formula.
After you are asked a question, answer it like this:
1.
Yes or No
2.
One or two sentences to back up your answer
3.
A question to turn it back to your conversational partner
For instance:
You are asked, Do you like your job?
You can answer, Yes, my job is challenging. As I work at TCS, I get to interact
with a lot of foreign clients. Sometimes, I even am able to travel abroad to meet
them in person. How about you?
Typically, in any American greetings or small talk, one can answer with the
same question that was asked or a variant of that question. For example:
"How are you?"
"Good. How are you?"

Or
"How are you?"
"Good, and you?"
One more example:
Have a great weekend!
You, too, have a good one!
In this case, one refers to weekend, and is used in response to other
saluations like:
Have a great holiday.
You, too, have a good one!
Have fun on your vacation!
Same here have a good one!"
(Do not say you, too here unless you and your colleague have the same
vacation days off.)
Two important considerations:
1.
In the above video, she suggests to ask small talk questions about
one's family. I'd suggest to only ask such questions if the person you're
speaking with talks about their family first. Otherwise, Americans may
feel uncomfortable to talk about family or relationships. It's always better
to stick tosmall talk topics that deal with the person him or herself.
2.
The question she suggests to use to return the conversation is
"How about you?" Notice how she pronounces this. This is not said word
by word - "How --- about --- you?" It's said somewhat fast and sounds
like, "Howboucha". This is because in American English when one word
ends with a T and the next word starts with a Y sound, the T and Y are
dropped and a new sound 'CH' is created. Understanding these formulas
will help you understand when Americans talk fast. More on these
combined sounds by clicking here.

How did it go? A Simple Question


With Multiple Meanings!
Asking How did it go? is a common question used in American English, and at
work. This kind of question could be in relation to work related tasks or small
talk.

Task-Based Examples:
So team, how did the product launch go?
How did the meeting with the client go?
How did your presentation go?
Small-Talk Examples:
How did your vacation go?
How did the Christmas party go?
How did your new car buying experience go?
Events asked in questions like this often have taken considerable planning or
forethought to carry out. Asking for the outcome in this way also has a subtle
meaning of encouragement or empathy that you just completed something
challenging or taxing and we, as the asker, want to know how the final outcome
was. (Typically with the hope that it is a positive outcome.)
Contrary to the belief that this is a direct question for Americans, for those not
familiar with American English expressions, this question is idiomatic in my
opinion. This kind of question is not direct, its not easy to translate into another
language, and it requires context, hindsight, and answering to the point.
Here is an example of a task-based question and example answers:
How did your client call go?
What this question really means: The asker wants to know what was the
outcome of the call after putting a lot of time into planning the call due to its
critical nature.
A bad answer: The call went as we discussed it. I talked about all the points we
planned for.
A good answer: The call went well. I was able to apply all the points we
discussed. I was able to convince the client to go with our solution.

Best answer: The preparation paid off! The client has been convinced. We
have scheduled a meeting for next Tuesday, September 5 at 8am to sign the
contract.
Here is an example of a small talk-based question and example answers:
How did your vacation go?
What this question really means: I know that your vacation to this new place
was something that you have been planning for many months, that took a lot of
coordination as well as it was expensive. Was the time, money and effort put
into it worth the effort? Did you have fun? What did you do? (Yes, that simple
question can mean all of that!)
A bad answer: The vacation was good.
A bad answer: The plans went as we discussed earlier. It was good.
A better answer: The plans went as we discussed and everyone had a good
time. Id do it again.
The best answer: Yes, remember we spoke about some of the coordination of
the travel arrangements. Although we were worried about completing all the
activities, everything went off fine. In fact, it was better than fine! We really
enjoyed our vacation and were able to take part in all of the activities you
helped me identify like Zorbing, going on a ZipLine and seeing the main
viewpoints in the Smoky Mountains, including Cades Cove. We also visited
Cades Cove early in the morning as you suggested so I could take some nice
sunrise photos. Overall, it was a great trip, well planned and really want to do it
again!
(It also depends on the tone these messages are given. Put some excitement
into it!)
Tips on answering How did it go? questions
Remember that the answer is based on past conversations and context with the
speaker. The speaker essentially wants to know the outcome. Its perfectly fine
to give details. A How did it go? question can include all of the below
questions:

Based on our previous conversations about this, I know you were


nervous about it how do you feel about it now? (Feelings or thoughts can be
expressed directly or by the tone of voice.)

Did it happen as planned? Was it better than expected?

"What was the outcome?"

"How did it impact others?

Would you do this again? Why? What went well?

Would you suggest me to do this, too?

What was the summary or highlight of the event being asked about?

Feel free to provide examples of How did it go? questions below in the
comments section along with sample answers.

When Should I Apologize to an American?

Once when coaching an Indian in the U.S., I asked, Did you get good customer
service at the car dealership?
My coachee responded by saying, In my opinion, yes. But, since I do not really
know the proper customer service etiquette, I cannot give you an accurate
answer.
I found this answer extremely insightful. It also humbled me. It is very true, as
cultures and communication styles differ, also would the expectations in
customer service. In day to day interactions between those of different cultures,
we not only want to know what is the ideal of the other culture, but we want to
know what we should avoid doing so that we dont offend anyone. Typically,
these are the dos and donts of cross-cultural interactions. As there is no way to
cover all of these dos and dontshere, I would like to start by sharing three
scenarios that if they happen to you, its best resolved by a simple apology.
Action: Bumping Into Someone
In India, the idea of personal space is very different than in the U.S. Another
very insightful trainee of mine once said, Even in the U.S., I have noticed that
in bigger cities people are more comfortable in close spaces than in smaller
towns or villages. When I considered these words, I realized how true it is.
However, on the whole, even in crowded cities in the U.S., if

we accidentally touch, hit, or bump into someone in a crowded place, we look at


the person in the face or eyes and say Excuse me.
How to Apologize: When bumping into someone, making eye contact and then
saying 'sorry' or excuse me is the correct way of resolving or apologizing for
this social mistake.
Action: Sneezing / Burping / Body Noises
Americans really dont like to hear body noises, especially while eating. Any
way we can avoid such noises, the better. Of course, it is impossible to avoid
these noises in every situation, so we apologize for ourselves or others in these
cases. When someone sneezes, typically the person who sneezes says
excuse me and the others nearby say bless you, or God bless you. If it is not
said by someone in the room, the person who sneezes may think others nearby
him are rude or inconsiderate. To get a comical view of this situation, see this
clip from Seinfeld.
However, if we are eating with others, and we burp or make some body noise,
we apologize for ourselves by saying excuse me. If the person him herself
does not say this, the others will think the person making the noises is being
rude or inconsiderate.
How to Apologize: When sneezing, expect others to say God Bless You or
Bless You. Return these words to an American when they sneeze.
When burping or making noises while eating apologize by saying Excuse me
or Im sorry.
Action: Arriving or Responding Late
One of the biggest offenses to many Americans, inside or outside of work is to
be late. Its better in most areas of the country to be ready for business
meetings at least five minutes before the scheduled time. For those who come
even a few minutes or more later without a previous message regarding this
(heads up), those in the meeting will think the latecomer is not responsible,
not taking initiative, disorganized and wasting their time. As Americans often
think of time as money, especially at work, its one of the biggest offenses to an
American to be late. If one is unable to inform the meeting chair in advance
about lateness, and shows up late, upon entering the room, one should say
Sorry, I am late.
How to Apologize:
For Being Late to a Meeting: Sorry I am late.
For E-mail Responses More than 2 Business Days:* Sorry that I am
responding late. Or Sorry for the delay. A way to avoid having to use this
apology is upon getting a phone call or e-mail respond quickly by saying, I

have received your e-mail (phone call), and I will get back to you in a few days.
If anything urgent is required, let me know, and I will adjust accordingly.
*Lateness is typically within 1-2 business days, but could be less depending
on the urgency of the matter. Check with your manager on the correct protocol.

How to Avoid Meetings that Run Overtime (Get Extended)


How an American May Respond to These Apologies:
After saying, God Bless You, the typical response is Thank you.

After saying, Excuse me. Or Sorry, Im late or related apologies, an


American may respond by saying, No problem.

Some may misinterpret this response, No problem. to mean that an apology is


not necessary. This is not true. An apology is always required. Saying No
Problem is a way of acknowledging your apology and making you feel better
for having made a mistake. If the apology is not said, then it can cause more
problems later on.