Small Talk: The Art of Interactional Communication

  • small talk

Small Talk

Are you a customer-facing professional?

Customer-facing roles such as a hostess, butler, waiter, bartender, barista are all positions which require successful customer interactions.  Conversations must be successful in connecting positively with your customers, making them feel valued and wishing to return, as well as being a pleasant experience for the interlocutor…YOU!


Transactional vs Interactional Communication

We can divide communication into two categories:  transactional and interactional.

Transactional conversation carries a message and is the language of business; getting a task done.  In the case of a barista, a transactional exchange will involve the barista politely asking what the customer would like, correctly understanding the customer’s response and making the order.

Interactional conversation is the language we use to build and maintain relationships.  In English, we call this ‘chit-chat’ or small talk.


Learning Functional Exponents

Both transactional and interactional communication are extremely important in the case of any customer facing professional.  Transactional communication can be clearly defined within professional contexts and functional language exponents can be taught to students.

✅  “What can I get you?” (informal enquiry )

✅  “Can I take your order?” (neutral enquiry)

✅  “May I ask what you would like to order?”  (formal enquiry)


Interactional Communication

Interactional communication is less clearly defined.  The language we need to interact and connect with our customers.  When choosing conversation topics, one must be sensitive to cultural values and conventions; intercultural awareness.  Many would say this is the foundation of communication.  Some conversation topics are universal.  Here are some universal questions which you can use to ignite a conversation with your customers, make them feel valued and encouraging them to return their custom in the future.


✅  Are you up to much today?

= What are your plans for today?

✅  Have you been up to much today?

= What did you do today?

Both questions open up the door to many other topics of conversation and follow-up questions.


small talk

✅  How’s your day going?

= Are you having a good day?

✅  How are you doing today?

= How are you?

✅  Any plans for the weekend?

= What are your weekend plans?

✅  How’s your Friday so far?

= Are you having a good Friday?


Language Functions

Showing sympathy:  Oh dear. / I’m sorry to hear that. / What a shame. / What a pity.

Reacting to something surprising:  Oh wow! / Really? / That’s amazing! / That’s really cool.

Compliments:  I like your coat. Where did you get it? / Nice shoes.  Where did you get them?

Complaining:  Terrible weather today, isn’t it?

Weather:  Lovely day today, isn’t it? / It’s meant to rain later, isn’t it?


Our English Courses

All our Grammar Goat courses include lessons on small talk which are tailored to your profession and your place of work.  We create role plays of real life situations and we provide detailed language feedback, including a focus on pronunciation, to make sure you improve your small talk and your interactional conversation.  Our mission is to inspire hospitality professionals to achieve more through English.