Small talk is a necessary evil. Our relationships with co-workers are often one dimensional and lack the depth to have any meaningful conversation. If you're like me, you probably find small talk to be boring, awkward, and, quite frankly, soul-sucking but it doesn't have to be that way.
If you spend at least 8 hours with someone Monday through Friday, why not surpass surface level chit chat? No doubt this will only strengthen your work relationships and perhaps enhance productivity - especially if your job is team-oriented.
Here are eight ways to make work chats less routine and more riveting.
Find Other Ways to Say "How are you?"
As the natural follow-up to "Hello," this question is so ingrained into our subconscious that we don't even think about it. The problem with "How are you?" is that it's generic and thus begets a generic, non-committal answer. Try asking questions that encourage further conversation.
How was your weekend? What do you have going on today? How's work treating you lately?
These are all good starts but definitely get creative!
Actually Say How You're Doing
In my very un-scientific research, the three most overused answers to "How are you?" are "good" and "tired".
Instead of saying "good" and keeping it moving, how about actually saying how you're feeling? I know, what a concept. Good is so neutral it almost lacks definition. Without being a Debbie Downer, just say what's really happening in your world.
"I'm so tired" is another popular response. Chile, who isn't?? Instead of just stating your lack of sleep, tell them what kept you up last night. Did you go to a great concert? Stayed up until the end of the Grammys? "Tired" is tired. Think of something more lively.
Avoid Talking About the Weather
I know we're all searching for commonalities, but there's gotta be something more interesting than the fact that we stand under the same sky. The only person I want weather updates from is Al Roker.
For whatever reason, the weather is a hot topic. The main problem with this is that, more often than not, it just invites negativity.
"This rain is so nasty!" "Can you believe how cold/hot it is outside?!"
If someone does bring up the weather, try to provide a sunnier response. Add something positive to where you can anticipate a follow-up answer. For example:
"Yeah, this rain is pretty gross but it's perfect Netflix weather! Can't wait to keep binging Black Mirror. Have you seen it?"
Everyone loves to be flattered, especially women. Out of habit, we tend to compliment each other's hair or clothes just as a conversation filler. This is fine, but let's dive deeper than outside appearances.
You're at work, so compliment your coworker on their work. Let them know they killed their last project. Tell them how much you enjoyed their latest presentation. While all women appreciate being viewed as beautiful, we need to work on letting other women know they're also smart and hardworking.
If her outfit is poppin', cool. But let her know her work skills are poppin', too.
Ask for Advice
Perhaps you're stuck on an assignment or maybe you want feedback on something you're not confident about yet. Why not ask your colleague for their advice? Whether it's helpful or not, your co-worker will appreciate that you value their input. Plus it gives you a chance to share what you've been working on, too!
What if this person is in a different department/position and you're not entirely sure what they do on a daily basis? This is a great time to ask! Without grilling them, informally inquire about their role, career trajectory, or what a typical day looks like for them. The fact that you care enough to know more about their contribution to the company says a lot and will instantly help build rapport.
No Diet Talk
Ladies, there are more compelling conversations than our never-ending quest to stay fit. Men don't talk ad nauseam about their eating habits, so why do we? I happen to sit near the kitchen in my office and the number of apologetic comments I've heard on calorie counting and avoiding the cookie jar is starting to drive me crazy.
If you must make food a topic, talk about that new restaurant you've been meaning to try. Ask for recommendations for your next date night with bae. Mention that amazing recipe you saw on Pinterest. But please don't bring up your Whole 30 diet for the umpteempth time. Please.
Pop Up With Pop Culture
Pop culture is a little superficial but it's something that we all more or less have fun discussing. It's also a safer alternative than politics and current events, a potentially dicey conversation depending on viewpoints. Even if you debate Kendrick vs. Kanye, it's harmless, fun, and less likely to ruffle any feathers.
Your pop culture interests also lets your personality shine. Just by learning your taste in music, movies, and literature, people will have a better idea of who you are as a person.
Make It Personal
Well, not TOO personal. There are boundaries after all. But the only way to graduate to a more authentic relationship is to share something a little personal about yourself. If it comes within the natural flow of conversation, divulge your past traveling adventures, mention your hidden talent, or tell that really bad date story everyone loves. But the more you share, the more likely they will share back.
If you follow these 8 steps consistently, it will no longer feel like small talk with an acquaintance but just catching up with a good work friend.
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