How to master the awkward but essential art of small office conversation

Every day around the world, an estimated three billion people go to work, many of whom avoid chatting with their colleagues when they are there.

Avoidance strategies vary. Some will keep their headphones on and their eyes down. Others will mimic receiving an urgent message that requires an immediate quick response, life or death, preventing them from doing just about anything else.

If these strategies sound familiar to you, if you’ve convinced yourself that avoiding chatting with coworkers is a smart way to protect yourself, that the risk of saying something ‘stupid’ or offensive or sounding socially inept is not worth it. not the reward of hooking up with someone (even for something as mundane as the weather), so bad news: your false logic could cost you a promotion.

Career coach Jamie Terran says small discussions between colleagues and supervisors build relationships, which in turn builds trust.

“Rapport is the feeling that allows you to extend a deadline or ignore small mistakes because it allows you to easily remind yourself that we are just humans,” he says. “True or false, relationship building through interacting with coworkers could be what gets you promoted or maintained in the role you hold. “

Relationship building also applies when you are interviewing. People hire people they want to work with, not necessarily the ones who are perfect for the job. Engaging in a small conversation with the other person helps make a positive impression.

But how? Small talk can be intimidating. It’s 2019 and we’re all worried about something, including a 15-second chat with Janet about the air conditioning temperature in the conference room.

The good news is, you can just go ahead and re-use your anxiety about chatting with your coworkers and worry about not chatting with your coworkers instead. Because while gossip can be torture, the absence of it can also make us feel bad about ourselves.

Here are some ideas to avoid this feeling.

You are nicer than you think

A 2018 study published in Psychological Science found that people “consistently underestimated how much their interlocutors liked them and appreciated their company.”

Think about it: when you have a hard time chatting with a coworker (it’s stunted, there were silences, neither of you could think of anything to say), return to your desk normally and think: “Wow, Alex is a bad talker”? No, you are blaming your own perceived shortcomings. And Alex thinks the same about her.

The point is, you’re nicer than you think, so try not to judge yourself so harshly. According to Ellie Hearne, founder and CEO of leadership communications agency Pencil or Ink, which, among other services, teaches businesses and leaders how to have better internal communications, “People can’t remember what you say. , they remember how they felt when they were with you ”.

A little planning goes a long way

If you are generally anxious in social situations, Terran suggests coming up with some basic questions or stories that you can learn from.

“Whether or not you share personal information about yourself is up to you, but discussing things that are really important to you is always the best strategy,” she said. “Topics related to your professional area, such as an article you’ve seen or a book you’ve read, are a great place to start. “

Has anything weird or interesting happened to you recently? Workshop (in your mind, at least) this story ahead of time when you need something to keep a conversation going in the office.

And don’t forget to ask questions. We are all ultimately quite narcissistic at heart.

Advance the dreaded “How are you?” »Loop

The ping-pong “How are you?” Okay, how are you? ”May seem like a waste of time and energy, but has the potential to break the cycle. Access your topics inner Rolodex (see: plan ahead) and move the short conversation forward. by answering why you are “good.” As in “I’m fine. I just started a book / podcast / TV show and really enjoy it. Have you heard of this?”

Or mention something related to the office, where there is a shared common experience: “I’m fine. They replenished the cold beer in the kitchen and it’s so strong. Have you tried it? “

Don’t panic, it’s over soon

Small discussions don’t last long. “If you’re a generally anxious person, you’ve got a way out – you’re at work! You are not supposed to spend too much time chatting. After a few moments, you can reference a meeting or a project that you are supposed to be working on, ”Terran advised. A simple exchange of pleasantries followed by a concise but polite exit is perfectly acceptable.

You have (occasionally) the right to remain silent

If you’re having a bad day and don’t want to talk, it might be better for everyone involved. Enter the headphones. “It’s good to take a step back from the commitment. Most people are familiar with the new workplace, headphone-like etiquette which means “give me some space,” Hearne said. A simple smile or a nod of the head to thank your colleague will still go a long way.

I leave you with one caveat: there are very few ways to have a successful conversation in the office bathroom. It goes without saying that it is totally forbidden to try to chat with someone while they are in the bathroom.

That said, one of the most memorable (in a good way) office gossip I have ever had happened at the bathroom sink. A coworker who was clearly excellent at tidying up fun facts and sharing them appropriately told me about the “shake and fold” method of using a paper towel to reduce waste.

I have used the method, and have used it as a small conversational device, ever since. – New York Times

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