1. Stock up on conversation starters
Running out of conversation topics? It’s probably a sign that you need to be a little savvier of the current developments around you.
You can start with the latest trending topics, from world news to thought articles or inspiring TED videos. Not a fan of serious content? You can also look up the latest activities to do over the weekends, nifty everyday hacks, or indulge in a few quick doses of humour that could entertain your peers. By exposing yourself to things that are beyond your area of interests, you will be armed with several interesting facts that will minimise conversational roadblocks. Like fishing, you’ll soon tug on a topic that resonates deeply with a colleague. Once that happens, remember the winning topic, and expand your knowledge of it for future conversations.
2. People enjoy talking about themselves more than you know
Taking a genuine interest in your colleague’s life moves you a step closer to breaking the “small-talk barrier”. Though they may not say it out loud, people do appreciate it when conversations touch on their lives and personal interests.
If you’re unsure of how to delve into such topics, simply start with questions about their ambitions, hobbies and life pursuits. For instance, a question like “what do you do in your free time?” not only gives you an insight into their life beyond working hours, but you can also use this information to suggest common topics with them in the future.
You do not have to ask everything within a single discussion; start with a few such questions to cultivate a habit of easing into conversations. Play your cards right and your colleague will soon let you in on more of their personal opinions.
3. Embrace your vulnerability
To get your colleagues to open up more, start by doing so yourself.
It is normal for us to want to portray an overly polished and put-together image of ourselves, especially in the workplace. But remember that you’re trying to make some new friends, and in so doing, it is alright to be open about your imperfections, even the insecurities you may have that you’re working on. By starting the ball rolling, your colleagues are more likely to reciprocate and share more about themselves too.
4. Great listening is an under-appreciated skill you should master
Upon getting the other party to open up, don’t make the mistake of being a terrible listener. Some people tend to over-analyse conversations or body language, but fail to listen. They then walk away with knowledge of something entirely different from what was discussed.
Pay attention, and show that you’re paying attention. Respond to the conversation with small nods, and if necessary, raise questions for clarification. Maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact, and if your colleague is providing advice, consider rephrasing what they said to ensure that you understood it correctly. Instead of worrying about how you should react, empathise with what they say, and listen to understand – not to respond.
5. Branch off
You can also try to branch off within the flow of conversation to explore new topics. See how person B does it in the short conversation below:
Person A: I just bought a Subaru yesterday, it’s so much more convenient to travel around now.
Person B: Oh, Subarus are good, very reliable and solid. What model did you get?
Person A: Subaru Forester. It’s a great family car.
Person B: Ah, that’s nice! How many people do you have in your family?
Breaking it down, Person B picks out topics from what Person A says and expands on them. This is a good technique to use when you want to deepen conversations. Keep an ear out for potential topics with each sentence, and you’ll find one that interests both of you.
6. Be real, always
Sincerity is key to building a relationship that permits deeper conversations. You can implement any of the previous tips and still fail if people find you insincere in your interactions with them.
There are countless ways to achieve a deeper conversation, but the most crucial way is to just be real. Be true to yourself, and your colleagues. Insincerity is easily detectable, so always be honest with how you feel in a conversation and let your colleague’s impression of you do the rest.
How do we start conversations digitally?
For those of us working from home, it might be doubly hard to reach out to colleagues, since the opportunities for starting spontaneous small talks have become few and far between.
Whilst it is easy to make conversation when running to each other in the office or to walk over to your colleague’s cubicle to make a spur-of-the-moment comment, sending a private message to spark small talk might feel less natural, and might even bring the connotation that you have a request or demand for the colleague. Nonetheless, there are still ways that we can leverage any existing digital interactions and employ the tips from above.
Reach out to team members and offer to help
When new members join your team, or if a team member has been entrusted with a new job scope, it is a great opportunity to start a conversation by extending a helping hand. You can ask about how they are settling into their new role and continue with some small talk by applying the conversation-starters you have learnt. Likewise, if you are a new member of the team, it would be a great time to reach out to the colleagues in your team via a private message – introduce yourself, and ask questions to learn more about them and the company.
Slip in everyday conversations into work chats and meetings
Even if we are messaging our colleagues to ask for the latest slide deck, the conversation does not have to end when your request is fulfilled. Keep the ball rolling by branching off from there to ask about their day or their weekend.
If time permits, meetings do not have to dive right into the planned agenda immediately – you can start with some casual check-ins to ask colleagues how they are.
Reply privately to comments on public channels
Another great way that you can start a conversation is by responding to your colleague via a private message for something they mentioned at a meeting, on the work group chat, or on other public channels like LinkedIn. This shows your genuine interest in the topic that they have shared, making it an effective method of reaching out. Alternatively, simply replying in the group chat itself or leaving a comment on their LinkedIn post would be a great way to connect, since this could still pave the way for a possible one-on-one conversation in the future.
Conversations with your colleagues should never be something you dread. Armed with these tips, we hope you can look forward to having better and deeper conversations with colleagues-turned-friends, both physically and digitally!
This article is contributed by TalentTribe.