What to talk about with your foreign colleagues besides work stuff?

Anna Gandrabura
English For IT
Published in
3 min readJun 30, 2022


English For IT team archives

How often do you have no-work conversations with your colleagues or clients? Maybe not too often because you are trying to avoid them 🤓. Chances are, you are a bit insecure and most likely do not really know what to say to them. How do you build rapport with a foreign colleague, client or potential employer without seeming either too formal or overfamiliar? Let’s dive into it:

  • Make sure you don’t talk only about yourself. Instead, express interest in the other person. Ask them about their company, how they started out, what they do in their free time etc.
  • Ask more open-ended questions. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. For instance, instead of asking “Do you like your job?” ask “What do you like about your job?”
  • Be hospitable and offer help or suggestions. Let’s say you are going to have lunch. On top of offering food and refreshments, it’s a common practice to ask about specific food preferences or allergies just to be sure you don’t take your vegan colleague to a grilled meat restaurant.
  • Try to trade knowledge, whether it’s work, study or hobby-related. The best bonding occurs when you walk away from a conversation having learned from each other.

Here are some useful phrases for no-work conversations if you are a non-native English speaker:


Did you have trouble finding us? (if the person has just arrived)

How was your flight?

How is it going?

Suggestions and offers:

I was thinking we could…(go to a seafood restaurant)

Would you like to grab/get (a coffee / a dessert / a lunch)?

How do you like your (coffee/tea)?

What is your drink of choice?

Let me know if you need anything

How do you feel about…(doing something)

Are you allergic to anything?

Do you have any food preferences?

Offering to pay:

It’s on me (=I will pay for it)

It’s my treat (=I will pay for it)

Let me buy you a drink

Don’t worry, I got it (=I will pay for it)

Keeping the conversation going:

What do you do for fun?

What do you find exciting?

So you’ve been an entrepreneur for 7 years now, huh? (huh? Is often said in the US to elicit more information from the person)

So tell me more about….(your vision for this product etc.)

Showing interest:

What’s your opinion on…(this topic?)

That’s a bummer / that’s a shame (when reacting to bad news)

Really / for real? (when showing surprise)

And then what happened? (to show interest)

What a story… (to say you’re impressed with a story)

For the sake of practice, I recommend utilizing the tips I have covered in this article next time you are going to have a no-work conversation with a colleague.

Also, prepare at least 3 questions you are going to ask them in advance. What would those 3 questions be? Feel free to share in the comments.



Anna Gandrabura
English For IT

Educator and Entrepreneur. I help teams understand each other across cultures. Ambassador at english4it.online