Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the social demands of chit chat conversations? While many may view small talk as pointless, mastering it can provide personal and professional benefits.
In this article, we’ll discuss what chit chat is, why it’s important for remote work environments, and how you can be better at it.
1. Be a good listener
In order to have a successful chit chat conversation, you must be able to listen. This is a skill that you can learn, and one of the most important ways to improve your listening skills is by practicing.
When you talk to people, try to focus on their responses rather than thinking about what you want to say next. This will help you to remain mindful and curious, which is the key to being a good listener.
You can also practice by rephrasing some of the things that they have said back to them. This will help to ensure that you understand them, and it will also demonstrate that you care about what they have to say. You should not overdo this, though, as it can come across as condescending. Instead, just use it occasionally as a way to show that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. This will also help to keep the conversation flowing nicely.
2. Stay on topic
Before you head into a conversation, it may help to have a list of potential topics to discuss. This way, you can feel confident that you’ll have something appropriate to talk about right away.
Keeping the conversation on topic is also crucial to success in chit chat. For example, if your coworker mentions their love for a certain sports team, avoid trash talking rival teams or making negative comments about the players.
Instead, try to find a common ground such as sharing your own appreciation for the same team. Then, move on to another mutual interest such as a shared hobby or movie.
While some people resent workplace chit chat, others use it to socialize in remote work environments where face-to-face interactions are less frequent. In fact, research shows that remote workers who make an effort to schedule socialization in their workdays are happier and more productive than those who don’t. That’s why remote teams need to establish a culture of chit chat that encourages employees to share parts of their personal lives with one another.
3. Avoid the big three
Small talk is a valuable way to build strong relationships, especially for remote workers. It also improves team cohesion and productivity. However, chit chat can be dangerous when it gets too personal or offensive.
Skilled conversationalists know to avoid the big three: religion, politics, and sex. These subjects make most people uncomfortable and will quickly derail the conversation. In addition, sexist or racist jokes are not appropriate in any setting.
If you’re in an unfamiliar environment and don’t have many topics to discuss, a little appropriate humor can break the ice. Chit chat is also a great way to practice your American English. My student Miguel, for example, uses chit chat opportunities to practice his pronunciation with native speakers. This has helped him become much more comfortable in his social interactions.
4. Practice your chit chat skills
Chit chat may feel awkward at first, but it’s a great way to practice your English skills. In fact, some of my students have told me that small talk helps them improve their American pronunciation, as well as exposes them to natural phrases that they can incorporate into their own conversations.
The key is to avoid topics that are tense, off-putting or controversial. Instead, focus on listening for opportunities to learn about the person you’re talking with. Asking thoughtful questions about their work, hobbies or family will help you connect with them.
It can also be helpful to practice in front of a mirror, so you can see how your posture and expressions convey openness. You can also get feedback from close friends or your partner to make sure you’re putting people at ease.