Some hate office small talk, while others see it as par for the course. Nevertheless, conversations between colleagues are an essential part of office life, even if some people have grown out of the habit with the rise of home working. This can make the art of workplace chat all the more complex.
After going quiet for many months during the pandemic, workplace chat is once again making itself heard in companies, whether in cubicles, lifts, or the pantry. These conversations often revolve around safe, neutral, evergreen topics like the weather, problems on public transport, or plans for vacations or weekend outings.
However, for many working people, this return to trivial conversations is an uncomfortable experience – especially as they have learnt to do without this kind of small talk on professional messaging systems such as WhatsApp, where the constant flow of requests requires a certain form of restraint and succinctness.
But small talk doesn’t follow the same rules as professional written communication. This art of banal conversation is much more coded and complex than it seems, especially in a business setting.
That’s why some employees don’t hesitate to search the internet for tips on how to become an ace at office chat. Google searches on what to talk about with colleagues have increased dramatically over the past two years, reports “Business Insider”.
What’s more, the community platform Reddit hosts numerous forums where people exchange tips and tricks for successful small talk and pitfalls to avoid.
Herein lies the difficulty of conversations between colleagues, as these chats need to take into account the specifics and, above all, the limits of each individual. For example, it’s not a good idea to talk about divisive or overly personal subjects with a colleague you don’t know very well. These include politics, religion, and intimate matters.
Some might be tempted to see this as a form of censorship on office small talk, but it is, in fact, a way of accommodating everyone’s sensitivities. One in two members of Generation Z say they have already suffered negative effects from discussing political and social topics with their colleagues, according to a PwC survey conducted among 52,195 workers last year.
The benefits of small talk
Is this a sign that “you can’t say anything about anything anymore”, especially to employees under the age of 30? The PwC report suggests otherwise, stating that 83% of Gen Z employees have benefited from in-depth discussions with colleagues, even if these can be fertile ground for strong opinions and disagreements.
This is why it’s important not to give up on any non-productive conversation in the office, whether by avoiding outspoken colleagues at all costs, or by shutting yourself away in a bubble of silence with your noise-cancelling headphones.
While small talk in the workplace can be perceived as a waste of time, it’s an activity that reinforces the feeling of belonging in a company. But that’s not its only advantage: chatting with colleagues contributes to employees’ wellbeing and helps them to manage their working day more effectively, according to research published in 2021.
There’s every reason to believe that the pleasantries you exchange with your colleagues between meetings are far more important than you think, and can lay the foundations for rewarding professional relationships.
But be careful not to overdo it. Employees who interact with more than 20 colleagues a day often find it difficult to concentrate, and report higher levels of stress than those with more measured social interactions, according to a 2019 study.
So, when it comes to office small talk, it’s all a question of moderation.