Chapter 4 - Building Rapport With Small Talk

Building Rapport in Business - The Definitive Guide

What if I told you the key to small talk has nothing to do with talking at all?

As you're about to discover there is nothing small about the subject of small talk. Anyone skilled in this area knows they need to use a series of techniques to be successful.  

Wouldn't it be great if you could learn a simple way to create a conversation effortlessly with anyone?

Well, that is exactly what you're going to uncover today.


In this chapter, you’re not only going to learn the key components of small talk, but you’ll also discover our simple 4-step process designed to create a conversation effortlessly in virtually any business situation on the fly.

By the time you finish reading this chapter, you’ll have the necessary tools and techniques to instantly become a better conversationalist tomorrow.

Small Talk in Business

The first step to mastering small talk is learning how to ask great questions.

Think back for a moment, have you ever met someone for the first time and tried to ask questions but they kept answering with one-word answers like yes or no?

Or how about that awkward feeling of running out of things to say in just a few minutes?

If you answered yes, then there is a simple solution.

The Secret Behind Asking Great Questions

The way you ask questions is the key to controlling the conversation.

To break this down, all you'll need to understand is there are 2 types of questions you can ask:

  1. Closed-End Questions
  2. Open-Ended Questions

First, let’s take a look at closed-ended questions. These types of questions can be answered with a simple yes, no, or a one-word answer.

  • Do you like the food? No.
  • Did you enjoy your vacation? Yes.
  • How was your vacation? Good.
  • Is this your first event? No.
  • Did you grow up around here? Yes.

An open-ended question is a question that you have to give an explanation for. Let's ask the same questions in an opened-end way.

  • Why did you choose that dish?
  • What was the most exciting thing you did on your vacation?
  • How are you connected to this event?
  • What was it like growing up where you’re from?

Can you see the difference? Just by changing a couple of words in the question, you're able to learn a lot more about the person, build on what you just learned about them, and you'll have better control over the conversation with additional questions to ask.

Open-ended questions start with words like

  • How
  • Why
  • What
  • Tell me

As you can see, open-ended questions are very beneficial.

Let's build on this now:

Let’s say you asked me “How are you connected to this event?” and I answered, “Well, I’m part of X organization, and this is my 5th event in the last 6 months”.

Now you have 2 new pieces of information to build on and ask about.

1. Tell me more about X organization that sounds pretty interested.
2. What kind of interest things have you learned at the first 4 events?

As you can see, open-ended questions are compelling when engaging in small talk. They enable the other person to do most of the talking, while you can sit back and utilize your listening skills which we’ll discuss in detail in chapter 7 so build on the conversation with ease.

To become skilled at small talk, we recommend having 3-5 open-ended questions in your back pocket to utilize in any situation. You can even write them on the back of a business card so you literally have them in your back pocket if needed.

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Probably the fastest way to build rapport during small talk is to identify a commonality with the other person.

So how do you do that?

Sometimes you can uncover it with a few open-ended questions. Maybe you can spot something in their appearance, but the most effective way is to be well read and up-to-date on current events. Taking 20-30 minutes a day to read up on current events will instantly make you appear more intelligent and able to bridge the gap in most conversations.

Here are a few sites a visit daily

When you ask an open-ended question like “What types of things do you keep up with in sports or television shows”, you could hit a gold mine of commonalities.

Another really effective technique is talking about fascinating stories and books.

I highly recommend reading a couple of Malcolm Gladwell’s books:

These books provide numerous fascinating conversation topics you can use to relate and amaze people in conversation.

Here are a few topics:

  • How does a man with an IQ of 30 percent higher than Einstein become a bar bouncer in New York City?
  • Why can it be dangerous for doctors to have too much information?
  • Why is the law of the few so important to you?
  • How do Asia kids really have a built-in advantage in Mathematics?
  • Why does your birthday matter if you want to become a professional hockey player?

Malcolm Gladwell is a master storyteller. Each one of this books provides dozens of amazing stories that you can easily remember and use as talking points in any setting.

The OPEN Formula

Now it’s time to unveil our OPEN formula, a simple framework for making small talk easy for anyone. 

At this point, it’s pretty amazing that most of what you learned to this point on the subject of small talk really has nothing to do with talking at all.

As we dive into the OPEN formula, amazingly the first part of this formula has nothing to do with talking either.

1. Observe your environment

The O stands for Observe your environment. This is really the key to small talk. Your ability to observe and uncover something to talk about in the moment enables


you to create an instant conversation. This approach makes it much easier to start a genuine conversation.

For example: Let’s say you’re at a supermarket and you notice I have your favorite cereal.

You can say something like “Isn't that the best cereal in the world? Do you have any other recommendations for breakfast?”. This could open up a bunch of discussions instantly.

An excellent open-ended question at networking events is "How are you connected to the event".

Observation is really about observing and mentioning 1 of 2 things.

  1. Observing something in the environment
  2. Observing something to compliment. 

2. Position to listen

Moving on, the second part of the OPEN formula stands for Position to listen.

Based on your observation and initial open-ended question, you'll position yourself to listen for additional information you can use to build on the conversation.

In our previous example "So how are you connected to the event" you’ll uncover additional pieces of information to build on that conversation instantly.

This is exactly what you're doing in this part of the formula.

3. Explore for more

The third part of the OPEN formula stands for Explore for more. As you discover new and interesting things about a person, you'll uncover even deeper things about them.

It's at this point you can build trust and even stronger rapport with a little personal disclosure about yourself. Here are 3 ways to do that.

  1. Fact based disclosure
    1. That’s amazing I went to that college as well.
    2. I go to that gym too.
  2. Sharing personal opinions (Always disclose positive opinions)
    1. I think they are good enough to win a championship this year.
    2. I believe that’s the best show on Saturday night.
  3. Express personal feelings
    1. I love that character.
    2. I understand how you can see it that way.

4. Never neglect yourself


The final part of the OPEN formula stands for Never neglect yourself.

This is a key area many business professionals struggle with. It's kind of a balancing act between avoiding sounding like you're the greatest, as well as avoiding sounding like you're insignificant. So most end up sounding like they're in the middle. This is a huge mistake many people end up making as they become forgettable as soon as they start talking about themselves.

So how do you talk about yourself the right way and build on that conversation?

The next chapter is dedicated to this topic as you'll learn how to make yourself memorable in 15 seconds or less.

Bonus: The Secret Behind Giving a Genuine Compliment

As we discussed earlier, observing your environment is the key to small talk. Within your observation, you may uncover an opportunity to give a compliment.

Here’s the issue, why is it so difficult to compliment someone?

To answer that question, we need to understand what flattery is. In its simplest form, it’s an empty compliment or giving a compliment with a motive.

When flattery is detected, it can immediately break any rapport you may have built.

Flattery is thrown around so often these days it can be


recognized almost instantly and can break any rapport you may have built.   

A typical reply to flattery might be “Ah, you’re just saying that.”   

A second reason why many feel it's difficult to compliment someone is the fear of rejection. It is this fear of rejection that some create reasons why we shouldn’t give a compliment at all.

Here are some of the most common reasons people avoid giving compliments all together:

  1. They probably won't believe me
  2. They already heard it
  3. They think I’ll have an agenda
  4. They think it's a turn-off

Here's the truth, everyone likes a genuine compliment.

So how do you give a genuine compliment then?

Through trial and error, we’ve developed the OVER formula. The OVER formula was designed for you to “just go OVER and give a genuine compliment.”

1. Observation

Just as you learned from the OPEN formula, observation is the key to small talk.  Having the ability to observe and uncover something to say in the moment enables you to create an instant conversation. This approach makes it much easier to give a genuine compliment as well.

2. Validation

This is probably the biggest mistake people make when giving a compliment. When you fail to validate why you gave the compliment in the first place, it can feel like flattery.

How do you avoid this critical mistake?

After giving a compliment, you should immediately justify it with the word “because.” Justifying your compliment with a reason why you feel this way is much more genuine.

3. Enthusiasm

This is by far the most important aspect of this formula. It's made up of 2 critical components 

  1. You'll need to ensure you’re in an energetic and enthusiastic mood.
  2. You'll need to ensure you have a friendly and upbeat tone of voice.

Note: Without these 2 components present throughout your interaction, it’ll be almost impossible for you to ever appear genuine at all.

4. Request for more info

Requesting more information (using the 5 W's) shows you're interested in what they think, as well as helps build on the conversation.

When you show you care and make it feel real, a person tends to open up and shares more about themselves in no time.


Here's an example:

Observation: You look amazing, how much weight did you lose?

Answer: I’ve lost 40 pounds in the past 6 months.

Enthusiasm: That’s outstanding you lost 40 pounds in 6 months, you look awesome

Validationbecause I’ve been trying to lose 40 pounds for the last 6 years with no luck.

Request for more info: You have to tell me what your diet and workout secrets are RIGHT NOW.

As you can see in that quick example, we gave a genuine compliment that could have created an hour discussion on diet and workout secrets.  


A second example:

Observation: Can I ask you a quick question, I love those shoes but where in the world did you find them?

Validation: Because I've gone to 3 malls so I can try them on before I buy them and they've been sold out in my size everywhere.

Answer: At X mall.

Enthusiasm: You look amazing in them, I'm going over there TODAY.

Request for more info: What are some other shoes worth checking out today?

As you can see in that quick example, we gave a genuine compliment that could have created a great conversation on shoes.  

Keys to Building Rapport Faster with Small Talk

  1. Always use open-ended questions
  2. Stay up-to-date on current events
  3. Always have a few interesting stories to talk about
  4. Use the OPEN Formula to open a small talk with ease
  5. Use the OVER Formula to go over and give a genuine compliment with ease

Now that you have a better understanding of how to utilize small talk to build rapport, it’s time to dive into chapter 5, and learn how to craft your perfect elevator pitch and make yourself memorable in 15 seconds or less.

Effective Business Communication Skills