Relationships in and out of the workplace are formed and developed through communication. At the most basic level, you don’t need to speak in order to acknowledge and be acknowledged by those whose paths you cross as you go about your daily business.
A smile, a nod, an eyebrow flash as you pass, a little sound of recognition, all demonstrate polite awareness that we are in each other’s radar.
Depending on the circumstances, we reinforce these connections with little phrases: ‘Cold, isn’t it?’ or ‘Have a good weekend’ or ‘Working late?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ These phrases show goodwill without real engagement, and don’t require much of a response.
This ritual is known as ‘phatic communication’, where you use words to establish a friendly mood rather than to exchange concrete information.
Give something back
You can move this kind of exchange on to a different level by responding assertively.
When someone says ‘Good weekend?’ you know they don’t really want to hear every detail of how the barbecue was a disaster or how difficult the kids were or about the drama with the maid of honour at the wedding you went to (actually, that does sound interesting…), and you probably don’t want to tell them anyway.
But giving back a little information in return hikes your communication on to a different level.
‘Lovely! My daughter was back from university.’
‘Not bad, thanks. Managed to walk some of the coastal path in spite of the weather.’
‘Yes — saw a good concert/film/play/went to a great gig.’
Taking the initiative and revealing just a little bit about your personality or personal life is an assertive step which offers a fuller picture of yourself and helps to create a degree of warmth and understanding.
On a professional level, creating a greater awareness of your persona raises your profile. You are seen in a slightly different light, from a slightly different angle.
You also give bosses and co-workers an idea of what makes you tick outside your stellar performance at work. Knowing what people enjoy, how they like to spend their time, what choices they make, gives an insight into their values and what motivates them and enhances understanding.
Keep the ball in play
Return the conversational ball. You needn’t say much in response, but put a little meat on your reply.
If someone says:
‘I had a terrible evening, actually. Our toddler has chickenpox quite badly.’
‘Oh, you missed the match then.’
Say something like:
‘That must be worrying/how rotten/you must be tired.’
Add a personal response
If someone says:
‘Great weekend! Holed up with a box set of Game Of Thrones/played golf/tennis both days/went on a long bike ride.’
‘Really?’ (Voice dripping with amazement at and disdain for their choice.)
Say something like:
‘That sounds like fun/sounds as if you really enjoyed that.’
Then add something like:
‘I’m a great fan too/I’m more into Mad Men at the moment/I don’t play myself, but I enjoy watching the Masters…’
Get a nice exit line
Sometimes just a smile and a nod will finish a conversation. If you have had more than the briefest exchange, an exit line makes it more of a definite event. Round things off with:
‘Nice talking to you.’
‘Good luck with…’
‘Hope things improve.’
‘Catch you later.’
These tiny, assertive tweaks to your everyday communication will make your encounters more enjoyable and meaningful, and will help you to engage with others in a way which inspires liking and confidence.
My book, Small Talk Skills, offers an easy, practical guide to how to make social conversation. You will discover how to:
- Get Prepared
- Introduce Yourself
- Start a Conversation
- Keep a Conversation Going
- Make a Conversation More Interesting
- Manage Self-Disclosure
- Read and Use Body Language
- Build Rapport
- Deal With Awkward Situations