"People don't care how much you know,
until they know how much you care." - John Maxwell

Business conversations are a lot like any other kind of conversation, except that the polite topics are business and professional rather than personal and social.  Usually, the purpose is to get acquainted with lots of people, exchanging pleasantries and facts with many people, never monopolizing another person's time for the whole event. 


Basic social conversation rules:

  • Keep it short; keep the conversation moving. Limit responses to 60 seconds or less.
  • Avoid opinion and emotion-evoking topics such as money, politics & religion.
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Do not finish other people’s statements.
  • If someone does or says something rude, ignore it.
  • Do not complain.
  • Do not criticize others.  Say nothing evil about common acquaintances, former bosses or coworkers.
  • Address a new acquiantance by his or her title and last name until you are invited specifically to use a first name.

The Top Five most common topics of conversation, in order:

  1. Current events-- Subscribe to and READ a business publication to have something to say.
  2. Sports-- Even if you don't like sports, know what season it is and the names of the home town teams.
  3. The event or job at hand-- If you show up at any event, you need to know who sponsored it and why!
  4. The organization sponsoring the event-- For newbies, asking others about the organization is a great conversation starter.
  5. Personal demographics--  Where did you go to school, where do you live, how many kids do you have......

Conversation Timing Rules:

  • At breakfast, business conversation can begin as soon as the coffee is poured.
  • At lunch, make small talk until orders have been taken. Then you can talk business.
  • At dinner, wait for the host to bring business into the conversation.

Good questions for the conversational interview:

If the conversation is taking place during the job interview process, it is perfectly appropriate to guide the conversation toward job- or company-related topics.  Naturally, you should have already done your research about basic company information.  This is not the time to ask what the company manufactures or where it's main offices are located.  Instead, ask questions only about information that you could not have found prior to your interview.   A few good questions might be

  • What was one of the best things your company did this year?
  • What’s a day at the office like?
  • What is the company’s corporate culture like?
  • Inquire about company backed-backed programs for employees’ volunteer work in the community.

Always remember that an interview is an interview. Regardless of how relaxed the setting, anything you say can and probably will be used by the interviewer to evaluate you as a job candidate.  Never respond “no,” when the interviewer asks if you have any questions. You must always seem interested in the job and company.

Content for this web page was taken from Career Services at Virginia Tech University, Placement Manuals Online National Edition, Etiquette and Elegance at Southwestern University, and the CNN Career Center.