Unmindful Small Talk Can Cost You Big Time

Kuda Brandt

You are in the boardroom having fruitful deliberations and are well on your way to sealing the deal.

There are still i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, so you decide to reconvene at a later date. The meeting adjourns, everyone is more at ease and then the small talk starts.

The Collins Dictionary defines small talk as “polite conversation about unimportant things that people make at social occasions”.

While this is true, in formal set-ups it is crucial to note that even if a meeting has officially ended, as long as you are still in the presence of fellow attendees, the meeting remains ongoing.

What you say will be mentally noted.

If your engagements were about forging international collaborations with a women’s rights group, for example, your conduct throughout must reflect your sensitivity to women’s rights.

Your pitch can be great but the way you talk at dinner engagements can leave a bitter taste in the mouths of your guests.

Of course, be authentic as people can smell pretentiousness a mile away, but stay focused on the end goal. Be responsible.


As Africans, we are generally warm and cheerful by nature and don’t usually economise on jokes.

However, there is a fine line between people laughing with you and people laughing at you.

In a LinkedIn article, billionaire tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, Strive Masiyiwa, cautions against joking.

He says: “The problem with jokes is they do not always work when you are dealing with people from other cultures, or even with people of another generation.

“It is very, very risky and can take away any chance of raising capital or finding serious partners.”

He advises: “If you like joking around, sharing jokes, etc, just remember that in the world of senior class entrepreneurship, it can be like carrying a banner saying ‘please don’t take me seriously!’

“When you meet potential investors, do everything you can to signal I am serious, so serious that you can trust me with your money.”

I might add that you cannot go wrong with maintaining a professional tone. If you must joke, be sure you are literate in ‘reading the room’.

Know who you are talking to and be able to gauge the level of comfort.


We are human and have multiple layers so who we are on LinkedIn might vary from versions of us on TikTok.

But these versions should not conflict with one another. Your messaging or ‘small talk’ on various platforms must be consistent, even if the delivery is different.  

For example, you should not promote women’s rights on LinkedIn, then on TikTok dance to music derogatory of this same group.
It is not easy to be deliberate and meticulous with one’s content, but it is not impossible and it is not too late to start now.

Consistently staying aware of who you are talking to, whether in a formal setting or not, might well save you from deal-breaking communication misfires.

  • *Kuda Brandt is a communications specialist who is committed to life-long learning.

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