Engaging colleagues in conversation

Learning versus intelligence - is this one and the same, or completely different?

Talking to workmates can be difficult - even striking up a conversation can be awkward and stressful. Establishing good working relationships is essential to a good culture and an environment where people do their best work.

If you're one of the many who find it hard to start a conversation on the fly, remember that everything takes planning - and being able to talk to your colleagues is simply a habit that can be formed with a bit of effort and dedication.

Put yourself in their shoes

A useful rule of thumb is to reverse places. If you were in their shoes, meeting you for the first time or after a weekend, what would you like them to ask you?

It doesn’t need to be earth shattering. It can be as simple as, "I saw a fantastic new documentary on Netflix last night – have you seen it?"

Or: "Do you like rustic Italian food?" and if the answer is no, ask them what food they do like?

Stay away from controversial subjects

It’s always a good idea to keep things light - the workplace isn’t the best time to bring up religion or politics. Leave those in favour of lighter topics.

Show interest in their work

Demonstrating an interest in someone's personal life is a good way to get to know them, but many people like to keep things on a professional level. Take the opportunity to understand more about the person’s role or how they like to work.

What insights can I share about my work that might be interesting? Or what would I like to know about their role or department?

The above is fine if you are faced with someone one-on-one, after an introduction, but what if you're at a morning tea, don't know anyone and feel like the only person on their own?

Keep your head held high and look out for other people. Establish eye contact and smile. This makes it obvious that you are interested in communicating. Say hello and ask a simple question – "Are you enjoying the morning tea?", "Do you have plans for the long weekend?", or "What department do you work in?" You could even ask something you know the answer to, like "Are they serving herbal tea here?"

Be as relaxed as possible as that allows the other person to mirror your demeanour.

Listening is an underrated skill

Once you have started a conversation, now is the time to switch into listening mode. Again maintain eye contact, nod and look interested with facial expressions (sometimes you may need to feign interest!).

Answer a question with a question

If someone asks you a question, try not to answer it with a simple 'yes' or 'no' but expand on that to encourage more conversation. Or ask a question that will keep the conversation going. As you converse more with a person, you will start to understand their views, what they are interested in and it becomes easier to share things about yourself and your interests, the way you like to work and your work experience.

Close with a positive statement and allude to the future

When it’s time to end the conversation, show the other person that you were listening and found them interesting by replaying back something they said. It could be something like: "I really liked your thoughts on the new approach to project management in the business. Would you like to catch up week about this?" Or on a more social work level, "When you and the team go on your next quiz night/golf day or lunch time run, I’d love to join."

Remember, for most of us meeting new people and finding elements in common doesn’t come easily. If you follow the tips above, it will soon become second nature.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Leadership Services