Water-cooler chit-chat: How to Make Small Talk in English at Work

Water-cooler chit-chat: How to Make Small Talk in English at Work

Water-cooler chit-chat: How to Make Small Talk in English at Work

Chatting with colleagues in a new workplace, or with peers at networking events, is not always easy, even if it’s in your native language. Unless you’re a natural-born social butterfly, it might get awkward and a bit stressful at first, and if you add your slight language barrier to the equation, it might become very scary.

Small talk (i.e. “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions”) is the easiest way to pass the time in the elevator or in while making coffee in the kitchen.

Fortunately, lots of these conversations can be quite formulaic -- that is, they follow the same patterns. We present you with some tips on how to become a king or queen of small talk.

How are you? 

A simple How are you doing today? accompanied by a friendly smile goes a long way. This is how it usually goes:

- How are you?

- Really good, thank you! And you

- Great, thanks!

After that, it’s completely fine to smile and walk away, but if you have a little more time you can follow up with something deeper, such as: I’m super busy today, so many deadlines coming up. Are you busy too? or I’m just sooo tired today, just can’t wake up after the weekend. Anything that’s easy going, non-committal, and simple will do!

Get personal (but just a little!)

Personal life questions are good if you like the person and you’d like to make your relationship a bit closer. Don’t get TOO personal though! People from different cultures and countries have different levels of tolerance when it comes to personal questions. Start on the safest ground before you consider getting deeper. Questions like: How was your weekend? Do you have any nice plans for the weekend? Do you have any holiday trips planned?

Give compliments!

Wow I love your earrings! or This is a great backpack! are fantastic conversation starters. Everyone loves compliments.

Good old weather

If nothing else comes to mind, there’s always the weather! In the UK, the weather typically doesn’t change that much. Any spell of warmth or sunshine is greeted with particular excitement and everyone is happy to discuss it.

Topics to avoid

Avoid office gossip. Gossip can be fun when you and your colleague are already close friends, but be very careful who you gossip with at the office. Office politics are a complex creature and it’s better not to get entangled in it unless you really know what you’re doing - you could really risk your reputation. So try to avoid talking about other people.

Avoid topics such as religion and politics. Remember you’ll need to work with these people -- so it might be best not to know they voted for that certain political party or candidate you despise.

Avoid oversharing uncomfortable personal things. It might be uncomfortable for your colleagues to hear that you had a horrible fight with your sister. Light-hearted complaints are absolutely fine though, such as My kitten kept me awake for the whole night, I’m not sure what to do with him!

Remember: Office chit-chat is not about genuine emotional support, it’s about finding easy ways to connect with people. And with a few stock phrases, it can be easy. 

Categories: Language Learning Life, Learning English