We all dread this moment. You walk into the kitchen at the same time as a “more than acquaintance but not quite friend” coworker and you are both going for the coffee machine. You know that you will have to say something. But it’s a Wednesday and too late to ask what they did over the weekend but still too early to inquire about their upcoming weekend plans. You probably smile – somewhat nervously – and chat about the first thing that comes to mind, then go about your day wishing that small talk didn’t always have to be so awkward.
While small talk around the office can be difficult, especially for millennials who are new to the workforce and not quite sure where the fit into the office social structure, it doesn’t always have to be painful. For this week’s First 5, we wanted to give you some tips on how you can make small talk in the office a little less awkward.
Here are seven ways to make better small talk:
- Leverage your immediate surrounds. Simply saying something to start a small talk conversation can be the hardest step. One good way to get a conversation going is to comment on something around you. For example, if you and a coworker are both a little early for a meeting and sitting in a conference room alone together, comment on something in the room. Bring up something neutral that conversation can organically stem from.
- Demonstrate interest in the conversation. Even if you don’t care at all about what your conversation partner is saying, try to be engaged. This will allow you to continue the conversation and end it on a natural note instead of an awkward one. Additionally, most people love to talk about themselves so sometimes all you have to do is listen.
- Stay up to date. If you’re not sure what to talk about initially, you can always ask if the person you are talking to has seen the latest big headline. Staying up on current events can also help facilitate a conversation already happening, as you can continue engaging with a conversation partner no matter what they are talking about. However, it is important to steer clear of controversial issues, like politics, that may cause conflict.
- Share something about yourself. This doesn’t mean divulging all of the details of your personal life. However, most coworkers will genuinely care about some of the surface level things going on in your life. For example, if you got a new pet, moved apartments, or even just went to a really great restaurant, these things can all be easy conversation starters when you are in a situation that demands a little small talk.
- Ask open ended questions. Questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no often lead to dead ends in a small talk conversation. On the other hand, asking open ended questions let your conversation partner know that you are interested in the conversation and allow a brief discussion to flourish.
- Search for commonalities. Discussing shared interests with a colleague is one of the easiest ways to connect with them. Without getting too deep, discussing a common interest allows you to have a more personal conversation that goes beyond the weather or what you ate for lunch. For example, do you both have kids or pets? Or maybe you know your conversation partner also loves Mexican food. These commonalities allow you to easily start a conversation about the latest PTA meeting or the great new Mexican restaurant that went in down the street from your office.
- Know when to end it. Perhaps the hardest part of a small talk conversation is knowing when to end it. Most of the time this comes naturally and you and your conversation partner can part ways. However, if you need to gracefully exit a small talk conversation tell your partner you have to get going on some work or have a meeting to attend in a few minutes. Most people will understand, allowing you to easily exit the conversation and preserve the relationship you have started to build.
What is your advice for millennials looking to sound professional during small talk conversations? Be sure to add your tips in the comments!
This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.