Office small Talk: Taboo Topics and Topics That Build Rapport
Did you know that 80 percent of your salary is based on your communication skills? That’s regardless of the industry you work in or your job title. Let’s face it, you can be the best software developer on the planet, but if you can’t communicate effectively with other people you will always stay at a certain level.
Communication Skills in Action
If you’re having trouble swallowing this, think for a moment about someone you work with (or have worked with in the past) who seems like an idiot when it comes to technical knowledge of the industry, but yet is in a very high position, say CEO. Now think about that person’s personality. Chances are, he or she is a pretty charismatic person. That’s called people skills. And that’s what people skills can do for any professional – get you noticed in a positive way and get you moving up that corporate ladder. If you’re not into moving up the corporate ladder, you may still need to take a good look at how well you communicate with others. People skills can help you get that raise, sell that product to that difficult customer, or simply help you get support from your coworkers when you need it.
Office Small Talk
First, there’s really no such thing as office small talk. Anything you say in the office makes a statement about you, your professionalism, or your personality. Office gossip falls into this category. But we’ll use the term “small talk” here to refer to light, not-stricly-business conversation conducted in a work setting.
You might be hoping to find a lengthy laundry list of taboo topics for office small talk. But no list would cover every situation. So, in lieu of the laundry list, here’s checklist you can use before you enter into any conversation topic in the office.
The Three-Point Checklist for Your Small Talk Topics
Instead of saying whatever pops into your head, run your comments through these fist:
Neutral and Non-Combative
Whatever you decide to talk about, make certain it won’t offend anyone. You may want to avoid topics pertaining to religion, politics, race, sex, office gossip, and vulgar jokes. And be careful about teasing anyone you work with. To you, it might seem funny: to others, it may come across as mean-spirited or even a form of harassment.
Relevant and Appropriate
Always make the first words you say relevant to the current situation or event. Small talk faux pas usually occurs while people are waiting for a meeting to start. If you’re at a status update meeting on a major project, it’s not the time to talk about your children or your hot date last night. While you don’t have to talk about big business, try to keep the topic of conversation general so that others may participate.
It’s Not All About You
Avoid talking too much about yourself. If you do, you run the risk of becoming known as self-absorded. Keep most of your comments and conversation focused on the other person.
Make Introductions Matter
When making introductions always present the lower-ranking person to the higher-ranking person. As an example: “Dr. Ben Bailey, this is joe Johnson, our draftsperson. “it’s also standard protocol to mention the higher-ranking person’s name first.
The terms “higher-ranking” and “lower-ranking” above refer to levels of title, position, or accomplishment. When introducing people of equal status, either can be presented first. Here are a few quick tips when you have to introduce someone else:
- Introduce a younger person to an older person.
- Introduce a coworker to a client or a worker from another company.
- Introduce a layperson to an official.
- Introduce anyone at a company event to the guest of honor.
How to Talk Intelligent on Any Business Topic
Let’s say it’s 8 a.m and you’ve just settled at your dest. You’re about to get the agenda ready for you boss’s upcoming meeting, when your boss passes by your desk and asks, “Did you take a bath in mutual funds? Man, the markets really crashed yesterday. “If you don’t play the market, have no idea what a mutual fund is, and don’t follow the financial news channels, you may find yourself nervously shuffling your feet, looking down and muttering, “Ah, well, er, no.”
That’s a though spot to be in, but there is a way out. Actually, there are several techniques you could use.
Immediately Try to Shift Back to a “You” Focus
When someone asks a question about a topic that you know little or nothing about, one successful strategy is to immediately shift the focus back to the other person by appealing to one of three things:
The other person’s Current Situation As it Relates to the Topic
In the example above about the mutual funds, you could respond with an empathetic, “Oh, sounds as if you did. Did you have a lot invested?”
The Other Person’s Opinion about the Topic
Again, from our mutual fund example you could say with a very interested tone, “It’s interesting you should bring that up. I’d like your take on the stability of the overall market, where do you think it’s going?”
True, in this example you’re dodging the question, and they may call you on it. Or, they may assume you took a bath and don’t want to talk about it. Either way, you’re keeping the conversation going.
The Other Person’s Experience or Expertise
You may prefer the more direct approach such as, “I didn’t invest in mutual funds, but I’d like to know more about them, what can you tell me about them?”
When you shift back to a “you’ focus – and especially when you appeal to someone’s expertise (whether they have real expertise or they just think they do), you’ll get them going into a commentary about their experiences, their opinions, or their involvement.
As you’ve probably already assumed, this goes hand-in-hand with shifting the focus back to the other person. The easiest way to shift that focus back is to ask a question about their situation, their opinion, or their advice.
After you have redirected back to a “you” focus, listen very closely to the terminology used and what is said. In nearly any comment you can pick out a piece of information to ask another question about. Eventually, after you ask two of three questions, you’ll gain enough understanding on the topic to make an intelligent comment. That way, your conversation partner will perceive you as knowledge about the topic.
Fail-Safe Phrases to Win Trust and Goodwill in the office
Strangers, acquaintances, friends, and colleagues all use different language. Unfortunately, many people in the office use “stranger” language when talking with bosses and supervisors. Your goal is to talk to everyone in your office – whether peers or bosses – as if they trusted colleagues.
But how do you do that? Follow the tips below:
Use the Phrases and Words That Trusted Colleagues Use
Most people in offices use language that sends a message of distance. In other words, they use words and phrases that highlight the different between the two people. Some examples are:
Strangers generally use clichés. Clichés are safe, non-threatening, and are usually meant as a filler. For instance, if you were talking about the internet economy, a cliché would be “The Internet is the place to be today, isn’t it?”
Acquaintances usually speak in “fact-ese.” Facts reinforce your mutual understanding of your topic, industry, or company.
Continuing with our internet economy example, a fact statement between acquaintances would be, “There are 1,543,333 active Web sites today, “or” 40 percent of holiday gift purchases were made online last year.”
Emotional statement are used between friends. They indicate a deeper bond than either strangers or acquaintances have. Friends feel safe making emotional statement to each other. Once again with our internet example, a comment from a friend may be, “I just love being able to do everything online!”
“we” talk sets the stage for anticipated future event shared between two business colleagues. It may also refer to past events or current situations. With the internet example, a “we” statement could be, “We”ll have so much fun starting this new internet partnership, won’t we?” or “Our company will really grow fast once we get our online retail outlet going.”
Fast-Forwarding Rapport with “We”Talk
Using “we” talk is an excellent technique for fast-forwarding rapport so the other person thinks of you as a colleague. It’s simple to do! When you’re in a conversation with a person you’re meeting for the first time, look for opportunities to insert the word “We,” “Us,” or “Our” into the conversation. It will scramble the signal, and get the other person thinking you’re closer than you really are. This works especially well if you’re talking to a boss, the company CEO, or someone in a higher position within the company. Some examples:
- “We sure are in an exciting industry!”
- “That new anti-trust law sure caught us by surprise, didn’t it?”
- “We’re in for an exciting ride if the industry trends continue the way they are.”
- “Our greatest opportunities will come from support from the City Council.”
- “The new Better Internet Bureau certifications will help us establish credibility for our online operations.”
Don’t Forget to Maintain Your Non-Verbal Image
Just as you can first-forward rapport through your words, you can also fast forward rapport with your body language. The acronym PALS NOW will help you remember the body language tips that fast-forward rapport.
P = Proximity. Stand about an arm’s length from the person with whom you’re speaking. Research has shown this to be the most comfortable personal space area.
A = Animated. Does your body posture show animation and enthusiasm? Or, are you hunched over and slouching?
L = Lean in. if you lean in toward the person who is speaking to you, they will think you are hanging on their every word, and they will like you more quickly.
S = Smile. Remember to smile, when appropriate, while the other person is talking.
N= Nod. Nodding while the other person is speaking sends a visual cue that your’re listening to and comprehending what they’re saying.
O = Open body posture. Are your arms folded? Do you have hands in your pocket? If you are seated, are your legs crossed away from the other person? Keep an open and Welcoming body posture throughout the conversation.
W = watchful eyes. Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation.
Tone and Tempo: When to Slow it Down and When to Speed it Up
The sound of your voice may be less than music to the ear, and people have a tendency to assign a personality type to you based on the sound of your voice. Have you ever “met” Someone for the first time via telephone, then formed a mental picture of what the person looks like? Sure! We all have. It’s natural to do so. Your voice may sound fine to you, but not to others. Tape-record yourself – preferably during a conversation – to find out how you sound. You may be surprised.
Adjusting Your Tone to Fit the Person
Without completely abandoning your personality or your vocal uniqueness, it’s important to adjust your tone, speed, pitch, and volume based on your listener. In general, people like other people who are like themselves. A subliminal way to show the other person that you’re “like them” is to mirror (not mimic) their vocal patterns. For example, if the other person is speaking more slowly, with a lower voice, and you are typically a high-energy, fast-paced talker, you may want to bring your rate of a slow talker, you may want to crank it up a notch.
The most important thing to remember when mirroring someone else’s tone is to be sincere. People can pick up on insincerity. The main point of this section is to bring to your attention the importance of focusing on the speech patterns of the other person. Too often we’re so “me-focused” in conversations that we completely overlook the other person.