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The Importance Of Office Small Talk

Performance & Productivity


February 20, 2020

August 26, 2020

You think chit-chat at the coffee machine is pointless? Think again. It’s essential to building trust.

Be honest: when was the last time you had a conversation with a random stranger? About the weather, the price of tomatoes, anything? Good chance it’s been a while. In an era of smartphones, AirPods, and self-checkouts at supermarkets, small talk seems to disappear out of our everyday lives.

In her book Reclaiming Conversation, renowned media scholar Sherry Turkle notices that our smartphones have not only become addictive because of their entertainment value. They also provide in an easy way out when we don’t feel like talking to someone. Statistics show that especially younger people are feeling less and less comfortable with actual conversation. A 2018 survey of Motivaction shows that forty percent of Dutch respondents between 18 and 30 have a fear of making phone calls. They prefer to send text messages instead.

Awkward office chit-chat 

This is not only true for our private lives: we’re also not very good at ‘the awkward but essential art of office chit-chat’, according to an article by Lindsay Mannering for The New York Times.

Many people especially dread the awkward ‘How are you? Good, how are you?’-loop, resulting in not talking to their coworkers at all. The art of small talk is finding something you have in common. Next time someone from accounting you barely know asks you how you are, why not say: ‘I’m a bit chilly, is it just me or is the heating not working today?’ No better way of bonding with someone than complaining.

Building trust

While these kinds of conversations might seem pointless, they can, in fact, change the way people perceive you. It makes you better known around the office and you’ll come off as more likeable than someone who’s always avoiding any kind of contact.

Mannering quotes career coach Jamie Terran in her article, who states that office small talk is important for building ‘rapport’, which eventually builds trust. “Rapport is the feeling that allows you to extend a deadline, or overlook smaller mistakes, because it makes it easy for you to remember we’re only human”. 

Don’t push it

While chit-chat might be difficult for many, we all know that coworker who keeps on chatting away when you ask how he or she’s doing. In many cases, this person is likely to talk about topics that don’t particularly interest you. This again shows that there’s an art to small talk: it’s about showing interest, but it should never last long, nor should it be too personal.

Fortunately, at the office, there’s always an escape: you’re at work. Next time you think that a conversation at the coffee machine is taking up too much time, it’s perfectly acceptable to say: ‘Need to run now. Deadlines. Have a good day!’

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