Top 5: Topics for Small-Talk at the Office

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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Sara Cope

Vacation – Everyone has either just taken one, is planning one, or is dreaming about one they’d like to take.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I love to ask people “Where are you from?”

Inevitably, it seems to lead to a great conversation about their childhood and where they grew up or the place that they currently call home.

Kim Johns

Movies and Mutant Offspring!…if you know that they have children or grandchildren, people love to share the latest escapades and adorable things they do or the trouble they are in. Problem with that is: how do you easily break away from the conversation

E. Steven Emanuel

Besides all of the other suggestions, I always try to take the opportunity to talk about the number one (or one and two) business initiative. I leverage the personal, but find it’s important to remind folks through small talk, why they are here, why they are important to the enterprise mission and the reason we keep small talk to a minium.

Dick Davies

Good job! Find something to be enthusiastic about that teh other guy cares about.

I’m reading Jon Meacham’s bio of Jefferson, who felt there was little benefit in disagreement, and consequently was thought to be two faced when he didn’t agree later.

Jefferson was an extraordinarily successful conversationalist.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I’m not in the office very much nowadays, but when I am I try to avoid small talk at all costs (that’s one of the 99 reasons I don’t spend a lot of time in the office). However, I do try to stop by and share something related to what we are working on and share dispair over management mis-steps.

Priscilla Anderson

Great article, I think small talk is important as well, and Dick, I’m very interested in Thomas Jefferson. When I read Undaunted Courage, I was amazed at what I learned about him. He was a very broad, intelligent man, that most of our nation has no idea about — I’m glad to hear there are some others that are interested in him as well.