The Haught guide to small talk
The problem is, it’s unavoidable: we have to put up a facade of amiability for the sake of workplace cohesion and must constantly find things to say to people we don’t like but whom we encounter frequently.
If your go-to is the weather, lunch ingredients or reality TV, I’m going to be blunt: you’ve transcended cliche and entered a realm of pure beige, the atmosphere of which will slowly erode your very soul. You’re better off saying, ‘‘I have no interest whatsoever in speaking with you’’ than ‘‘It’s chilly out, isn’t it?’’
So what should be the subject of the mandatory conversation you strike up with odious or uninspiring colleagues?
Here are a few aces to put up your sleeve:
Go meta: mention how often you find yourself stuck for small talk. If this only adds to the tension in the air, discuss the tension in the air.
Get colourful: a co-worker willing only to make the minimum effort and go with the prosaic ‘‘what are you working on at the moment?’’ has forfeited the right to be treated as an adult. Tell him or her you’re halfway through a post-mortem on a strange humanoid creature you found in the stationery cupboard, or compiling a list of colleagues you suspect of being communists.
Think third party: bring up something you read in a really good newspaper column. I can’t think of one at the moment, but if you look hard enough …
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday.