Making meaningful small talk with architecture clients can sometimes feel daunting, especially if you’re an introvert or lack confidence in your English skills.
However, small talk can be a great opportunity to put your clients at ease, get to know your architecture or design clients, build trust, and gain some useful design inspiration. For example, I recently asked a landscape design client about their last holiday as we were chatting and they told me all about hiking in nature and how much they enjoyed it.
So in the design, we incorporated some similar materials and features to remind the client of this fond experience they had on their holiday. All of this from asking the simple question “How was your recent break?”
To help you build your confidence and master the art of making small talk with your clients English, I’ve gathered together a few tips that can help.
1. Ask lots of questions
When you’re making small talk with a client, you’ll need to ask questions to get the conversation started. There are all kinds of ways you can do this, although many like to begin with common experiences like weather, common interests and holidays.
Here are some ideas;
What horrible weather we’re having today! Did you manage to stay dry on your way here?
Do you have any holidays planned for this year?
How have you been?
Have you been keeping busy?
Have you visited anywhere interesting lately?
How was your weekend?
Did you see that football game over the weekend? It was a close call! (If you like football)
Did you see the latest film/series on Netflix?
If you’d like to find out more about your client, you might also ask them more personal questions (without being too personal - see below) such as where they’re from or where they grew up and went to school and so on. Once you’ve got the ball rolling, the conversation should start to flow naturally.
2. Listen, listen, listen (and take notes and make the client feel heard
When you’re making small talk, make sure that you’re listening closely to what your client is saying. Make eye contact, smile and nod your head to show that you’re both interested and listening to what they say.
By doing this, you’ll help build that relationship of trust with your client whilst also gathering inspiration and ideas that can help you tailor your design project to their needs. You might notice certain things about their house or certain patterns in how they express their interests that give you clues to help you engage. I once had a discussion with a client for over an hour after discussing a painting I noticed on their wall and some of their plants. I was looking for common interests to open a conversation. You might discover the colours, materials and design themes that resonate with them the best. For example, if Morocco is one of their favourite holiday destinations, you could suggest incorporating touches of North Africa in your design. Write it all down and use it to your advantage!
Use some active listening phrases to make the client feel heard by paraphrasing what they're saying. This is called reflecting, and it helps the other person to feel listened to.
It's interesting what you were saying about ...
So if I understood what you're telling me is you really like ...
Thinking about what you said about ....
So I guess what you're saying is ...
Thanks for sharing that with me
3. Read the clients’ body language when making small talk
Although making small talk with your architecture client can be both enjoyable and beneficial, it’s important to remember that not everyone enjoys it. If so, it’s best to respect that and stick to discussing business.
Do they seem uncomfortable with the conversation?
Do they answer quickly and only give short answers?
Are their arms crossed?
Do they look serious?
Is their body language ‘closed off’?
Are they looking at their phone or checking the time?
Do they look angry or irritated?
4. Avoid difficult topics
Small talk should always be about discovering more about another person and building relationships. For that reason, you should always avoid topics that could cause conflict or disagreement. The last thing you want is to offend your client or talk about topics they can’t relate to.
Play it safe by avoiding small talk topics such as:
Current affairs and news that demand an opinion
A person’s appearance
Health or death
Anything too personal
Anything that someone might have an intense opinion about
Making small talk with architecture or design clients doesn’t have to be scary. Use the tips I’ve shared here, and you’ll feel more confident about building those relationships and succeeding in a business English setting.