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Bigger better small talk at work

Bigger, Better Small Talk: Practical Ways to Connect with Your Coworkers

by | Jun 10, 2024 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

Get Better at Small Talk By Asking the Next Best Question

Do you dread small talk? Does the idea of asking (or being asked) “How was your weekend?” make you cringe?

We get it. You don’t have a lot of extra time for long conversations. You’ve got work to do.

But here’s the thing. People are more likely to help you when they feel seen by you—as a person—not just for what they can do for you.

Lots of research shows that connection is vital for trust. And trust leads to better collaboration and results. In other words, connection makes work, work better.

So how can you connect more deeply with your coworkers, especially if small talk doesn’t come easily for you?

It doesn’t have to take long to have a connected conversation.

The Power of the Next Best Question

A simple way to connect with a co-worker is by asking open-ended questions like, “How was your weekend?”

But, asking a small talk question without aLearn More About SynergyStack follow-up can feel insincere.

Imagine your co-worker Jack asking a typical small talk question,  “How was your weekend?”

And you say “Great. I got a new puppy.”

To which Jack replies “Fantastic. Now let’s talk about our project.”

Yuck. Now that conversation likely feels like a waste of time.

To build a deeper connection, Jack could ask a few next best questions to keep the conversation going and show genuine interest.

Jack: “How was your weekend?”

You: “Great. I got a new puppy.”

Jack: “Oh, wow! What kind of puppy is it?”

You: “It’s a Labrador.”

Jack: “Fun! Is this your first one?”

You: “Yes, it is.”

Jack: “Is your puppy pulling your dirty socks out of the laundry yet? Because mine is a professional sock chomper.”

That’s less than a 20-second conversation, even if you let it breathe with some additional banter, you can still connect in just a few minutes.

Use Better Small Talk to Be Interested and Interesting

It doesn’t take long to make a quick human connection. It’s important to share a bit about yourself as well. Your coworkers want to know they’re working with a real person. While you don’t need to overshare, sharing personal moments, like a picture from your latest trip, can help strengthen bonds.

The key is to show up Interested AND Interesting

Think about how you can be both interested in your coworkers and an interesting person they enjoy being around.

Consider the following about your colleagues and what you might be interested in sharing about yourself:

• Who are the important people (and pets) in their lives? (how about in yours?)
• What do they do for fun outside of work? (do you have anything fun you like to talk about or any interests in common?)
• Do they have any big projects they’re working on outside of their day job? (what are you up to that might be of interest to them)?

Some “best next questions” for different scenarios

Scenario 1: Family and Friends

Initial Question: “How’s your family doing?”

Response: “They’re doing well. My sister just got married.”

Some Next Best Questions:

“That’s fantastic! Did you have a big wedding celebration?”
“Any funny moments from the wedding you can share?”
“Did you get a chance to give a toast? I bet it was legendary.”

Scenario 2: Hobbies and Interests

Initial Question: “What did you do for fun this weekend?”

Response: “I went hiking.”

Possible Next Best Questions:

“Nice! Where did you go?”
“Did you run into any critters, or was it just you versus the elements? I love it when I see a moose.”

Scenario 3. Big Personal Projects

Initial Question: “Any exciting projects you’re working on outside of work?”

Response: “I’m renovating my kitchen.”

Some Good Next Best Questions:

“That’s awesome! Are you going for a specific style or theme?”
Have you had any DIY disasters yet, or is it all going smoothly?”
“Does this mean we can expect a cooking show starring you soon?”

Scenario 4: Recent Travels

Initial Question: “Been anywhere interesting lately?”

Response: “I just got back from Italy.”

Next Questions:
“Italy! That sounds amazing. What was the highlight of your trip?”
“Did you try any incredible food that you’re still dreaming about?”
“Any funny stories from your travels? Like getting lost and discovering a hidden gem?””

Scenario 5: Personal Achievements

Initial Question: “Any big wins recently?”

Response: “I completed a marathon.”

Some Easy Follow-Up Questions:
“Wow, that’s impressive! How long did you train for it?”
“Did you have a celebratory meal afterward, or just a well-deserved nap?”
“Did you beat your personal best, or was surviving the goal?”

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to check in and invest in a human connection before jumping into work. By asking better questions and sharing a bit about yourself, you can create more connection and trust to make work, work better.

Your turn. What are your favorite ways to make more meaningful small talk for better human connection?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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