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The Awkward but Essential Art of Office Chitchat

By Lindsay Mannering

09/19/2019

Every day around the world, an estimated three billion people go to work and 2.9 billion of them avoid making small talk with their co-workers once they get there.

Their avoidance strategies vary. Some will keep their headphones in and their eyes low. Others will pantomime receiving an urgent message that requires an immediate, brow-furrowing, life-or-death rapid response, which incapacitates them from doing pretty much anything else, not excluding riding in, or communally waiting for, an elevator in their office building; making conversation while heating up lunch lasagna in the office microwave; walking from the entrance of their office building to the nearest public transit stop, or to literally anywhere, unless wait, you’re also going there? Because I actually meant to pop in this fine Persian rug wholesaler. See you tomorrow!

If these strategies sound familiar, if you’ve convinced yourself that avoiding small talk with co-workers is smart self-preservation, that the risk of saying something “dumb” or offensive or coming across as socially inept is not worth the reward of connecting with somebody (yes, even if that connection is a shared concern about it raining), then bad news: Your false logic could be costing you a promotion. Not to scare you or anything.

[Read our full package, “The Office: An In-Depth Analysis of Workplace User Behavior.”]

Jamie Terran, a licensed career coach in New York City, said that small talk between colleagues and supervisors builds rapport, which in turn builds trust. “Rapport is the feeling that allows you to extend a deadline, or overlook smaller mistakes, because it makes it easy for you to remember we’re only human. Right or wrong, building rapport through interaction with colleagues could be the thing that gets you the promotion or keeps you in the role you’re in.”

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