How to be an Instant Conversation Starter.

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In your personal and professional life, being easy to talk to is a skill worth developing.


But good conversationalists are rare.


There are plenty of people who excel at making small talk awkward.

That’s why networking events sell Miller Lite bottles for $4.

Liquid courage for those ill-prepared to engage.


You can be different.

And you can be less drunk with significantly more money in your pocket.



Two questions dominate the conversation-starting:

1.  What do you do?

2. Where do you work?



These are clumsy.

And awkward.

The real answer to Q1 probably involves Excel, meetings and email.



Question 2 will return the name of a company. Hopefully you recognize the name. If not… you go with your gut and say, “Oh, sure… what do you do?


Ask this instead: Where are you from?


This question creates opportunities for the respondent – and for you.


If they respond with the name of a nearby town, you now have locality in common. You can inquire about what high school they went to. If they respond with some far-flung city, ask how they ended up here.


Everyone has a story.

Where are you from? or ¿De Dónde Eres? can also break the ice with Spanish-speakers.

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At Red Angle we developed the ¿De Dónde Eres? poster to help start conversations between English-speaking managers and Spanish-speaking workers.


The ¿De Dónde Eres? poster allows everyone on the team to place a thumb-tack in their hometown. This gets everyone talking. It breaks down barriers.


Hispanic workers don’t get asked this question frequently for 2 reasons.


UNO: the assumed language barrier makes both sides fear the worst, opting for silence over awkwardness.

DOS: English-speaking managers don’t value in the question because they feel they already know the response. “They’re from Mexico. They’re alllllll from Mexico.


They’re not.


Roughly 65% of all Hispanics in the US are from Mexico, so if you have to guess – yeah, go with the odds. But you don’t have to guess.


You can simply say, “¿De Dónde Eres?”


About 10% of all Hispanics in the US are from Puerto Rico. Cubans, Salvadorans and Dominicans make up another 10%.


Everyone has a story.

In some cases, an entire group of employees has a story.


I recently brought a ¿De Dónde Eres? poster to a client and introduced it to 30 Hispanic employees. After half the employees placed a thumbtack on their hometown, I was informed there was no more room.




Turns out nearly everyone was from a few small towns in the state of Michoacán in Mexico.

I asked how that happened.

And a conversation ensued.



Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (, a  training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry. He similblogs these posts at Professional Builder’s Housing Zone.

Categories: Construction Spanish

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4 replies

  1. Good post, Brad, I like the poster, great idea.

  2. I like to lead with, “Have you ever had a vanity license plate?” Or something that starts with, “que piensa…”

    • That’s an interesting angle there, Barry. I like it. An open-ended question would be ideal, so maybe a tag team approach would work: “Have you ever had a vanity license plate? And if not… what would your dream plate be?” That is guaranteed to catch people off-guard. Try it on for size and keep us posted!

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