Small talk is truly an art. You must talk to a random person, often a stranger, about something of little significance that may be of interest to them. Usually, people trade weather stories or sports news, or if you are at a convention, you may talk about similar work experiences.
Anywhere there are people, you will find conversation, and there’s a reason for that. Humans are social people, so for many of us, silence is awkward and uncomfortable.
Or rather, it used to be awkward. Then we spent a year in isolation and discovered silence isn’t so bad, especially if that means you don’t have to find something to discuss with a stranger. But avoiding conversation isn’t the answer for you or your team, and a gentle push back into the social ring is necessary, even more so when team members are working remotely.
When your entire team worked in the office, it was easy for them to stop at one another’s desks and catch up. Knowing each other’s quirks and pain points kept them unified and kept you plugged into the team as a whole.
Working together in the office makes small talk unavoidable even for people who prefer to keep to themselves. Small talk is a critical step in building trusting and lasting friendships. What would happen if five members of your six-member team spent time engaged in conversation daily, but the sixth team member was quiet and never shared anything about his life? He would likely be ostracized and ignored, making his contribution to the team negligible. There would be zero trust between him and the others, and your dream of a cohesive unit would fly out the window.
Think about the friends you have at work. How did you become friends? Who started the conversations, what did you talk about? One of you had to say something to the other, and the other had to reply. However, it began. It was a give-and-take exchange.
Employees who engage with coworkers usually form friendships and feel more connected to the company, but it takes a culmination of small talk episodes to cement the relationship. It takes 90 hours to establish a friendship and almost 200 hours to move to the rank of a close friend.
Jibber Jabber- Learn to Talk the Small Talk
Small talk is crucial for your team’s growth and cohesiveness, so making time for your workers to get to know each other should be built into your weekly schedule. The goal is to master turning idle chitchat into a meaningful conversation between coworkers regardless of whether they are at home or in the office.
Small talk is basically a communication style. And to be a good communicator, you have to give, take, and understand the other person’s signals (which are often nonverbal) before you begin a conversation.
Most people are receptive to polite chitchat, but some don’t want to be bothered. Know the signs, so you don’t bother them, such as:
they nod as you speak or tilt their head to indicate they are listening
they are relaxed and their posture is open; legs are uncrossed, feet are flat on the floor, arms expressive
they do not position themselves behind a barrier such as a chair or notepad
they lean in
they cross their legs
they cross their arms
they cross their legs and arms at the same time- this is like a super double "no"
they cover their mouth just before or after speaking (indicates they are holding back the truth)
they point either up at the sky or at you
they cross their legs way away from you; people will point their legs toward the person they are giving their real attention to, no matter where their head is
These are great indicators when you face someone, but they won’t help when trying to identify whether a remote worker is “into” what you are saying.
How do we Initiate Small Talk?
You’ve learned to navigate keeping up with coworkers just as coworkers have learned to stay in tune with the pulse of the workplace through phones and computer screens.
You can facilitate small talk weekly (like before a mandatory meeting) with a mix of remote and in-office workers by leading discussion questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no.
Starting the conversation in the right tone is one part of your job, and the other is listening to the person speaking. New common ground may be discovered to steer the conversation to a deeper and more meaningful conclusion. A good communicator knows when feedback may not be welcome and how to continue or end the conversation.
Generally, most people are receptive to polite chitchat, but it’s essential to read the signs, like paying attention to his/her body language to determine whether to continue talking.
Different cultures will have other ideas about small talk, but ice breakers and positive communication can help them open up.
7 ways to engage remote workers in small talk
We’ve already established that small talk is not a jabbering waste of employee time (usually) and that getting remote and office workers together are important to build a strong team.
So, what are some effective ways to successfully engage remote workers?
have group calls or video calls to work on projects together
Provide instruction on digital tools and technology
Add small talk as an agenda item
Begin team meetings with individual check-in or an icebreaker
Design Agenda items around opinions and conjecture
Ask open-ended questions
Be genuine in your interest
When gathering the group, ensure they understand that small talk doesn’t have to be personal.
great conversation starters include
Where you were born and raised
a caring manager
Guide employees towards honest answers and sincere interactions and advise them to keep the conversation constructive and positive.Small talk is a big deal and an important part of the cohesiveness of your team.
When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program can help employees and employers come closer to a state of total well-being.
Investing in the right EAP or Wellness Program to support your employees will help them and help you. Visit https://ulliance.com/ or call 866-648-8326.
The Ulliance Employee Assistance Program can address the
• Stress about work or job performance
• Crisis in the workplace
• Conflict resolution at work or in one’s personal life
• Marital or relationship problems
• Child or elder care concerns
• Financial worries
• Mental health problems
• Alcohol/substance abuse
• Interpersonal conflicts
• AND MORE!
Bob Frisch, C. G. (2021, 02 18). Make Time for Small Talk in Your Virtual Meetings. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/02/make-time-for-small-talk-in-your-virtual-meetings
Kashyap, V. (2020, May 25). Talk When Working Remotely. Retrieved from Indeed: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-replace-small-talk-when-working-remotely-vartika-kashyap/
Member, S. (n.d.). Master the Art of Small Talk in 7 Steps. Retrieved from INC: https://www.inc.com/young-entrepreneur-council/master-art-of-small-talk-in-7-steps.html
Venoble, M. (2022, May 9). Back to Life, Back to Reality: How to Master the Art of Small Talk (In Case You Forgot). Retrieved from Shondaland:https://www.shondaland.com/live/family/a39929200/how-to-master-the-art-of-small-talk/