Making Conversation at the Office
Making conversation at the office can be awkward. Stay all business and you risk coming across as a buttoned-up, stuffy person who doesn’t know how to cut loose. Too nice? You might find yourself taken for granted or even passed over for promotions. And if your conversations are too casual, you may find that you’re not taken seriously. How do you strike the perfect balance when making workday chat?
When it comes to office chatter, there are a few simple best practices you should observe.
1 Show interest in others. We naturally like people who are interested in us. Open conversations with a question, and then genuinely pay attention to the answer. A simple “How’s your day going?” goes a long way.
2 Respect your office culture. Casual banter and humor may not fly in a formal setting. Ditto for an overly serious attitude at a workplace that embraces a more casual tone. The office is one place where you want to fit in.
3 Keep your opinions about life outside the office to yourself. It’s cool if you let your co-workers know that you love your dog, or that you like to skydive on the weekends, but leave more charged topics like religion and politics alone.
4 Stay positive. Yes, bad things happen at work, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a negative mindset. Keep your tone positive by focusing on solutions instead of grumbling about problems.
5 Don’t gossip. Office gossip will almost always come back to haunt you. When someone shares private information with you, be sure to keep their confidence. And whatever you do, don’t badmouth management or your colleagues.
6 Listen and observe. Make it a rule to listen more often than you talk. The more insight you gain into your colleagues and the general vibe of your office environment, the more relevant and meaningful things you’ll have to say when it’s your turn to speak.
Chatting with Senior Colleagues
Conversing with office mates who share the same rung of the corporate ladder is one thing, but the dynamic changes when you’re talking to someone higher up. All of the tips we just provided are still in play (you weren’t really going to talk politics with your manager, were you?), but there are a few more you should observe to keep things professional.
7 To be interesting, be interested. Within reason. Dale Carnegie was right—the secret to being liked is to show an interest in others. But mind that you keep the topics professional. “How was your fishing trip?” is a great question. “Were you as drunk as you looked at the club this weekend?” . . . not so much.
8 Make conversation at the appropriate times. Chat with your senior colleagues when you know they’re not in a hurry, like when you’re both heading to grab a cup of coffee. Match the topic to the length of time at hand. Asking something like “How did you get into this field of work?” might be an appropriate conversation-starter at an office dinner function, but it’s not well-suited for a two-minute break at the water cooler.
9 Schedule time to discuss work-related topics. Have an idea for improving the quality of your social media analytics? Don’t present that during a thirty-second elevator ride. Instead, consider using email or other office channels to schedule a meeting. Otherwise, your ideas may get lost in the shuffle or, worse, you’ll come across as a pest.
10 Don’t kiss up. No one likes the colleague who’s doing everything short of jumping up and down, shouting “Look at me! Look at me!” to stay on the boss’s radar.
Communicating with Your Employees
Once more, the rules change a bit when you’re making conversation with someone you directly manage. Now you’re in a position where you need to command respect, and that applies even in casual settings. Here’s how.
11 Have a sense of humor. If it comes naturally, use humor to make yourself more approachable. Just keep it office-appropriate. Remember, you’re setting the tone for everyone else.
12 Bring others into your conversations. Even the most casual banter with a senior colleague can feel intimidating when it’s one-on-one. Consider inviting others into the mix to ease the tension and help everyone feel comfortable.
13 Don’t get too personal. Keep your chatty questions neutral. It’s fine to ask whether your employee had a nice time on vacation, but when you ask about their relationships with their significant others, you’re straying into personal territory. Would you feel comfortable answering if your employee asked you the same question?
14 Sincere compliments are always welcome. It’s helpful to praise individual performance-related wins that you might only mention cumulatively on a performance review. (“Good job on the presentation this morning! Your Powerpoint chops are becoming legendary.”) They can provide confidence boosts that increase morale.
Whatever your hierarchy in the office jungle, making conversation is a matter of applying a combination of empathy (chat like you’d like to be chatted to!), good observation skills, and a little common sense.
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