Ahhhh…small talk. Some people just hate the concept in itself. But in reality, you need to be good at small talk in order to get things done. It helps you build rapport before meetings, between colleagues, and across functions which in the end contributes to the main goal (getting projects done in government)
Personally when I was an auditor, the 5 minutes of small talk before a meeting kick-off was the most important in my mind. If done successfully, the interviewee will be at ease and open up (if rapport is not established, you’ll never get more information)
Small talk can be difficult – some topics are too racy, some too obscure. And with an office full of people with different backgrounds, different education, and interests – what do you talk to when you run into the security guard as you check-in a guest, or talk to the senior administrator before an important meeting, or the HR classification specialist as you need help on a role description.
Luckily, I have 5 go-to topics for you today:
1) Weather – So obvious but it works. Whether it’s snow or rain, spring or fall. Everyone feels the weather and has a feeling about it.
2) Holiday – There’s always a holiday coming up. Asking people what they are going to do or did is perfect. Cautionary note – during religious holidays, tread carefully and ask vaguely.
3) Food – A new deli open up nearby? Coffee shop? Have a pack of Skittles on you? Everyone loves
food. Or they are on a diet and want to talk about that.
4) Kids – As a proud parent of a 5-month old, I finally understand the obsession with kids. I always sub-consciously knew to ask about co-workers kids as they lit up. But now I understand – it’s their pride and joy and great way to share their excitement and bond if going through similar experiences.
5) Sports – Sports build a common bridge across everyone. In DC, let’s talk about Redskins football or Nationals playoff run. Down south? Let’s talk about college football and the SEC. Tip – often folks have memorabilia in their offices showing their sports allegiance, pick up the clue and ask about their team.
How do you approach small talk at work for rapport building? What topics do you bring up? What topics do you avoid?
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