Small Talk 101

It’s a Monday morning and the office is full of employees arriving for a new work week. All across the office, small groups of people gather to take part in a very common Canadian custom- the weekend de-brief. If you took the time to listen in, you would hear things like, “What did you do on the weekend? That sounds amazing!” “I’ve always wanted to try that restaurant. How was it?”  These small conversations serve some important purposes.  They help employees ease into the new work week and as importantly, they help create relationships with colleagues and send a clear message that all involved want to be part of a group or team.

Newcomers to Canada that come from countries where small talk is not a daily part of the workplace culture may struggle at first with the concept. It may seem like a time-waster, but the whole point of small talk is to make connections with others and these connections help to make the workplace a more productive and enjoyable place to be.

Some people think of small talk like a tennis match where questions and answers are lobbed back and forth like balls in a match. The best small talkers can keep that exchange going until it reaches a natural end. Answering your co-worker’s question whether you saw the hockey game on Saturday game with a quick, “No” sends that ball falling to the ground and conversation stops. Instead, ask a question to express your interest in the other person and the topic, such as, “I don’t know much about hockey. Could you tell me the basic rules so I can follow along?”

Even though it may feel uncomfortable at first, look at small talk as an important business skill to practice; as important as delivering a presentation or negotiation a contract. Keep topics simple and start with weekend plans, the weather or current events. Relationships will slowly develop the more you get to know about your co-workers so file away any personal details that you remember and bring those up in future conversations.  Soon enough small talk will become a natural part of your day and you will be a part of that Monday morning circle.

Written by: Christine Wall, Soft Skills Facilitator for Atlantic Provinces