The isolation of the pandemic has brought about the realization that we’ve forgotten the fine art of small talk.
Although it may seem relatively trivial, small talk is essential to our development as a society. The ability to converse in a light, friendly manner helps put people at ease and fosters open communication between friends and colleagues. At work, it allows us to transition to more serious subjects, learn about ourselves and others, and develop a healthy rapport. In fact, research shows that spontaneous conversations with our coworkers can spark collaboration, improve creativity, generate innovation, and heighten employee performance and foster a feeling of being a part of the team.
In a recent study analyzing smalltalk productivity, subjects reported feeling more positive emotions–including friendliness, gratitude, pride, and energy on the days when they experienced small talk in the morning. That energy elevated their well-being and made them feel less burned out. They even passed the positivity along to their coworkers.
The Emotional Need For “Real” Connection
Emotional connections are hard-wired between people who feel heard and understood–a direct contrast to our solitary work-from-home situations. Although that model provides interesting glimpses of each other’s personal environments, it has also eliminated friendly banter. The barrage of Zoom calls so many of us have experienced over the past 20 months, coupled with hybrid work environments have taken their toll on our small talk skills.They’re simply not conducive to a productive back-and-forth, and our small talk skills have taken a hit.
Corporate Essentials CEO Judson Kleinman comments, “People have missed the social and networking opportunities of bumping into someone and beginning a lively conversation. That energy is vital to our well-being. We have to innovate new ways to foster small talk in the office environment now as employees return to the office.”
He suggests that corporate management recover these skills by encouraging new social rituals to help transition the conversation from: “how’s your day going” to “let’s get down to business.”
Experts recommend building in time at the start of each meeting for friendly greetings and ice-breaking questions. The importance of setting a favorable structure and tone for meetings can’t be underestimated.
Brushing up on your chit-chat skills
Here are some great ways to break the ice and start engaging in deeper, more productive conversation. Rather than saying, “Hi, how are you?” Try these questions:
- How’s your morning going so far?
- How’s your day been?
- How’s your afternoon been going?
- Has your day been busy so far?
- My afternoon’s been kind of slow. How’s yours going?
- Did you do anything special over the weekend?
- Are you planning anything interesting this weekend?
- I don’t know if you’re a fan, but did you see X (game, show) last night?
Frame your in-person workday with opportunities and events that help facilitate engagement with each other. As your team continues to transition from home to the office or hybrid environment, consider the following suggestions to help them reacclimate with their workplace communication skills.
- Host virtual meetups with snacks or coffee delivered to your team
- Encourage small-talk breaks over healthy snacks and beverages at the office
- Arrange for a catered happy hour, lunch, or dinner meeting
- Build an on-premise micro marketplace to serve as “command central” for collaborating and brainstorming
- Cater workplace lunches or offer grab-and-go meals so employees can spend more time connecting rather than rushing out to grab something to eat
- Facilitate “coffee talk”! Offering a break room coffee service is a simple way to bring a vibrant coffee-house atmosphere to the office
- Remember, the office break room is like your kitchen; It’s where everyone gathers, so make it special
- Create a “virtual lounge” in Slack or Teamwork where teams can socialize
The experts at Corporate Essentials would love to chat with you! Whether you need delicious, nutritious meals and snacks to fuel your employees physically, or want to set your sights on fueling their conversations, contact us for great ways to support employee satisfaction and engagement.