The pandemic affected the way we do work. From the busyness of the morning commute, we now wake up and work from the comfort of our homes. What are the pros you have experienced while working remotely? One would be saving on petrol or commute expenses, while another would be more time with family at home. But, introverts are immensely grateful for the lack of small talk. It has been more than a year without the elevator chats and awkward pleasantries at the pantry. But with anything with life, you yearn for what you don’t have, even small talks at work.

What is the importance of small talk?

More than talking about the weather or the latest office buzz, small talk is a soft skill that connects people, allowing them to feel the mood and tone of each quick interaction. Over time, the constant exchange with each fellow team member builds trust. You build rapport and eventually form a relationship, which you label depending on the comfort level and topics covered. From exchanging pleasantries, you end up having a new acquaintance, a buddy, a teammate or a close friend. It serves as a foundation between individuals looking for a common ground to form a bond.

As human beings, we yearn for any form of connection, even with strangers. Why? Because it helps lessen isolation.

Transforming Small Talk to Significant Discussions

Look back at all the friendships you’ve made at work. Chances are, all of these started with a friendly chat or a short exchange.

The small talk opened an avenue for you to check-in without any hidden motives. The small talk became constant, so much so that you end up considering them a friend. More frequent exchanges enable you to feel a closer connection, making your conversations more personal and forming a more authentic relationship.

How can you improve your small talk skills?

Enumerating the benefits of small talk does not eliminate the fact that it’s uncomfortable. However, it is a critical skill to have. Please remember that you need not share anything personal or heavy when having a small talk at work. 

Unsure with how to start? Here are some great conversation starters you can use:

1. Current Events

I bet everyone reads the news daily, so this is a good topic to use. The report covers local and international, from business to sports, so finding an exciting bit won’t be difficult. While politics and religion also fall under this category, it’s recommendable to avoid it.

2. Family

Family is a perfect place to start, but bear in mind to keep it light. Discussing family drama is a big no-no. Maybe ask about their kids or an upcoming event. 

3. Food

Ah yes, food. This topic is universal for everybody needs to eat. How about bringing up the newly-opened restaurant you tried? Or you can share your go-to recipe for the kids. 

4. Hobbies

Sharing what you do during your free time can help you find common ground. Although hobbies are varied, it’s still an excellent way to start a conversation. Mention a new hobby you learned while coping with the pandemic.

5. Media

The past year had us watching shows online or listening to podcasts while doing our chores. Why not share the latest episode you’ve seen or heard and see where the conversation goes? Some friendships I know began from having the same favourite show or movie. Books and music also fall under this category, giving you a more comprehensive range of topics. 

6. Object appearance

Don’t you love it when someone, even a stranger, compliments a piece of jewellery or the clothes you are wearing? Do it also. People put in the effort to look presentable, even during virtual meetings, so take time to gush over it. Please remember to avoid commenting on physical appearance as it can be a sore topic.

7. Weather

Though often used, it still is an excellent way to start a conversation. The most neutral topic you can have is sunny or rainy and how it affected you personally.

8. Work

If both of you work in the same company, the safest fallback you can have is to discuss what is currently happening at work.

The Different Types of Small Talk

Let us now delve deeper and understand the different settings where small talk can occur. Knowing the differences will prepare us with topics to discuss and questions to ask. Please note that asking open-ended questions can prolong any conversation. 

1. Communicating Goals and Aspirations

Share what work excites you and how you think it will help you reach your end goal. Typically done with a work manager or peer, this setting requires comfort as you share deeper information about yourself. During those short chats, try to drop bits of information about your work goals.

Although this kind is more severe than your typical small talk, it is appropriate in the work setting. Sharing what you like can open up more opportunities in the long run.

2. Interview Setting

Interviews can be intimidating because it usually happens with people you are meeting for the first time. Your small talk skills will come in handy, so you can avoid the awkward silence that comes with interacting with people for the first time.

Please remember to maintain courteousness and professionalism and to keep the topics neutral. Questions should be about the work involved, covering company information and workplace experiences.

The interview is a great setting to know more about the company and ask why they love working there, their favourite benefit, and how they provided support during the pandemic.

3. Networking Setting

Why do people go to networking events? Because they aim to meet new people. It is a perfect setting for small talk as most, if not all, of the people you will interact with are people you don’t usually know. Typically, this setting will have you describe your work, where you live, and why you attended the event, so it would be good to ask their current role and what makes them stay in their company. 

You may also discover a shared connection, which can be the centre of your conversation. If the event is somewhere both of you have never been before, talk about what places you’ve seen already or recommend a restaurant you’ve tried. 

4. Supporting Team Members at Work

Letting off steam during a small talk is not new, especially if it’s about the company. It can range from annoying colleagues and bad experiences. When engaging in this setting, observe the level of stress that the other person is exhibiting. If you notice that the issue is already affecting their health, offer to take the conversation somewhere more private to share more freely. Ask detailed questions and reassure them that they are safe from judgment or harm.