Consulting 1.3 Starting with a new team: Friendly opening questions

If you have already met someone, then it is customary to open the conversation with a friendly question. Starting with the correct question and answer will help you smoothly begin your meeting and build relationships. 

Knowing who wants to have a conversation versus who wants to get down to business is also an important part of communication. That topic will be investigated in the next lesson, 1.4. 

Introduction: 

Top-tier consulting firms have discovered a problem: new hires who had perfect performances during their test cases were often the ones that clients liked the least. Why do you think that is?

Warm Up: 

Read the following dialogue and make notes of any new phrases or language. After reading, discuss what you can infer about the context and relationship.

Tom: Good to see you again. 
Ken: You too! How's everything? 
Tom: Can't complain, can't complain. How was your weekend? 
Ken: Too short! But it was nice. What about you? What were you up to on the weekend? 
Tom: Not much. I got some family time on Saturday but I just worked on Sunday. Hey, I caught some basketball on TV. Your Lakers did well! 
Ken: Yep, big win over the weekend. We're gonna make the finals this year. Too bad about the Celtics though.
Tom: Tell me about it. Anyway, so we need to talk about implementation...  

Language: 

We will look at two simple structures for having a short, friendly conversation.

A typical flow of small talk is as follows:

How question → What question → Business. 

A. How questions are very common and typically have a short response. Discuss the following questions. Have you heard or used them before?

  • Now:
    • How's it going? 
    • How are you doing? 
    • How's your day?
  • Past:
    • How was your weekend? 
    • How was your client meeting yesterday?

    • It's been a while! How have you been?

How questions are responded to with adjectives, typically feelings.

Arrange the following common responses from most positive to least positive:

  1. I'm fine. 
  2. I've been really busy! But, so far so good. 
  3. Could be better.
  4. I'm okay. 
  5. Great.
  6. Fantastic. 
  7. Not too bad. 

Your teacher will ask you a few "How...?" questions. Respond quickly and naturally. 

B. What questions are also very common. Discuss the following questions. Have you heard or used them before? Note the verb tenses.

  • Now:
    • What's going on today? 
    • What's up?
  • Past: 
    • What have you been up to?
    • What's new?
  • Future:
    • What are you up to this weekend?
    • Do you have any plans this weekend?

The response is a verb or nothing (e.g., "not much", or "nothing special"). What are the differences between the following three responses? 

  1. Not too much, you? 
  2. I just had a drink with a few colleagues. What about you?
  3. I got back from vacation last week! I was in Italy and Greece for 10 days. 

C. Getting down to business is simple. 

  • So, anyway, let's get down to business. 
  • Shall we begin our meeting? 
  • Anyway, we need to...

  • Wow! We've talked for a few minutes already!

  • [topic] sounds great, but we should get down to business.

Practice: 

A. Your teacher will ask you some quick questions. Respond naturally. Pay attention to the type of question in order to respond correctly. 

B. Consider the following situations, then ask a friendly question and a follow-up question.

  1. You are meeting a foreign colleague for the first time who has just arrived from London. 
  2. Your client works in a young digital company with a relaxed atmosphere. It's a Monday morning.
  3. It's late on Thursday afternoon. You run into your foreign colleague at the coffee machine in the break room.
  4. You are attending global training. You are standing in line at the lunch buffet. Have a light conversation.