You must admit — one real advantage of working from home is that you don’t have to worry about making small talk with your co-workers.
Working from home means you never run into people sneaking in late or sneaking out early. You’re not congregating in the kitchen, reviewing the free snack selection and complaining about how management is too cheap to include Abba-Zaba bars.
Yes, it may have been lonely, being home alone with only your stuffed animals as colleagues, but I’ve yet to hear of a plush panda going to the Human Resources Department to complain about how uncommunicative you are, or a refrigerator grumbling about the way you pass it 10 times a day without saying a word.
If you are one of those poor unfortunates who is going back to the office, full time or even just now and then, you’re going to have to step up your chit and turbocharge your chat. You’ll have to be welcoming and friendly, and, basically, nothing at all like your true self.
This harsh reality is the reason to pay attention to the seven small-talk mistakes outlined by speech coach John Bowe on CNBC.com. And while I don’t agree 100% with his list of “don’ts,” I do think it’s something we should talk about.
No. 1: Assuming that nobody wants to talk to you
In the old days, when colleagues, seeing you come down the hall, did a quick 180-degree turnaround, it was possible to assume that no one wanted to talk with you. But, as Bowe writes, “after so many months of social isolation due to the pandemic, odds are enormous the person next to you is just as eager to make a connection.”
Use this desperation for human contact to buttonhole everyone you see. Tell them your life story, and don’t leave anything out. Your years as a Cub Scout or a Campfire Girl offer pearls of wisdom that anyone would appreciate. And don’t forget to introduce them to Mr. Plush P. Panda, SVP, who I assume you brought in to work with you and who, I’m sure, has plenty to say.
No. 2: Interrupting or intruding on an existing conversation
Don’t barge in. Also, don’t stand too close or too far away. “You don’t want to shout or come across as creepy.” Not unless you’re angling for a transfer to the IT Department.
No. 3: Start talking without having something to say
Our speech coach advises that you “make sure you have a fully-formed question or comment in mind.” Good idea. If you can’t think of anything to ask, try, “Remember that $50 you borrowed from me last year before the boss sent everyone home? I’d like it back now.”
No. 4: Broaching controversial topics
“It’s best not to talk about weighty, off-putting or polarizing topics,” Bowe writes. Instead, “aim for something simple that you and the other person can observe together … like the food you’re both tasting.”
Good strategy. You’re certainly safe with a casual comment over the cafeteria steam table, like, “I’ll bet even a fatty like you hates these undercooked monkey guts. I wouldn’t serve this dish to Donald Trump when he’s in prison.”
No. 5: Being hard to follow
“If you tend to speak in slang, don’t use words they might not know.” Or maybe you should. Your career prospects would be brighter if no one knew what you were talking about when you said your “gommo manager is such a nimrod, he can’t derp he’s a wazook.”
No. 6: Talking too much about yourself — or about other people
Disagree 100%. In fact, you would be doing your co-workers a real disservice if you didn’t give them the benefit of your wisdom. If your companion starts to fidget, include them in the conversation by asking what they consider the eight or 12 most wonderful aspects of your personality. If they ask you to do the same and come up with wonderful aspects of their personality, explain that you’re late for a meeting and go hide in the supply cabinet. Chances are you’ll find it full of co-workers hiding from you, and you’ll have plenty to talk about.
No. 7: Wasting someone’s time
“If you’re talking to someone, talk to them.” Bowe writes. “Be present and give them your full attention. Put your phone away.” Unless, of course, you’re recording the conversation to take to your manager to prove your co-worker’s disloyalty.
It’s a great way to rid yourself of competition and, if you’re lucky, gain leverage to expand the company’s snack offerings to include Abba-Zaba bars.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.