You get out of bed in the morning, wash your face, dress up and jump to a public transport to go to work. Maybe you never open your mouth until you go to work. Once you get there you avoid making small talk with your co-workers. But don’t. Because these small talks are so important that they are essential to business life.
Avoidance strategies vary. Sometimes we are afraid that we will say something ridiculous or we feel intimidated by the person we talk.
Here are a few thoughts on how to avoid that feeling.
Remember: You’re More Likable Than You Think
A 2018 study published in Psychological Science showed that people “systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company.”
A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
“Whether or not you share personal information about yourself is up to you, but discussing things you truly care about is always the best strategy,” she said. “Topics relating to your professional field, for example, an article you saw or book you read, is a great place to start.”
Advance the Dreaded “How Are You?” Loop
The ping-pong of “How are you? Good, how are you?” can feel like a waste of time and energy, but be the change you wish to see in the world and break the cycle. Go to your inner Rolodex of topics (see: planning ahead) and move the short conversation forward by replying why you’re “good.” As in, “I’m good. I just started a book/podcast/TV show and I’m really enjoying it. Have you heard of it?” Or mention something office-related, where there’s a shared common experience: “I’m good. They restocked the cold brew in the kitchen and it’s so strong. Have you tried it?”
Don’t Panic, It’s Almost Over
Small talk doesn’t last long. “If you’re a generally anxious person, you have an out — you’re at work! You’re not supposed to spend too much time chatting. After a few moments you can reference a meeting or project you are supposed to work on,” Ms. Terran advised.
You (Occasionally) Have the Right to Remain Silent
If you’re having a bad day and don’t want to talk, that might be best for everyone involved.
I’ll leave you with a warning: There are very few ways to have successful small talk in the office bathroom. It should go without saying that attempting to chat with someone while they’re in the bathroom stall is totally off-limits.
That said, one of the more memorable (in a good way) office chitchats I’ve ever had happened at the bathroom sink. A co-worker who was clearly excellent at storing away fun facts and sharing them appropriately told me about the “shake and fold” method of using a paper towel to decrease waste.