Conversation starters for those heading back to the office

Forgotten the 101 of small talk and water-cooler tête-à-têtes at the office? As people have become accustomed to working from home and only having intermittent interactions with their peers during meetings and such, is it any surprise that many workers have expressed reluctance and resistance about returning to the office and having to socialise again?

Whether it is that awkward ‘hi-bye’ colleague or a senior director you should be impressing with your eloquence, here are some useful conversation starters to grease up those rusty social skills, as we emerge from our shells, throw off those comfy sweatpants and return to the workplace.

Look up from your mug and smile at that colleague you keep bumping into at the pantry every morning. (Photo by Helena Lopes / Unsplash)

With an acquaintance in the pantry

You: “Hi, you’re under the [department] team right? What does your normal work day entail?”

Acquaintance: “Oh yes, I am. Work is pretty standard around here, I mainly handle…”

Breaking the ice with an acquaintance may be your best bet at elevating that too-long status to ‘friend’, so they will no longer just be that person you give an awkward smile to along the corridor. 

Asking them about their role and the department that they are working for instantly creates conversation, and it will also help to give you a better idea of what he or she does on the daily. Chances are, they will shoot the question back to you, giving two of you ample time to share a bit more about yourselves without cutting the convo short. 

With your boss in the lift

You: “Morning Mr. [name], how has your week been?”

Boss: “Morning! I’ve been pretty busy this week, yours?” 

You: “Mine has been pretty hectic too, I’m currently working on the [project] that you assigned me last week. I’m currently doing up the proposal…” 

Walking into the lift with your boss first thing in the morning may not be the best way to start your day. But it may be worse if you allow the silence to consume you. Why not kick start a conversation instead, before you kick yourself for not saying a word.

Asking them about their week makes you seem polite and well-mannered, while leading the conversation to a current project that you are handling will also make you appear on-the-ball and accountable. Beats having to trudge to their table at the other end of the office later.

Compliment a colleague’s outfit and see how that can turn indifference into acknowledgement. (Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com / Unsplash)

With a client in the lobby

You: “Hi [name], welcome to [company’s name]. Thanks for taking the time to drop by, have you had lunch? I have some food recommendations around the area if you’d like to try.”

Client: “Hi [name], I’ll probably grab a bite after this. Oh yes please, that would be really helpful. Could you list some of these places? I’ve never been around here before.”

If you have a client coming down to your office, he or she would probably not be familiar with the area, so offering dining options for their lunch break would help. This also makes your interactions more casual, thus warming your client up to you as well.

What you want to do is to create a good impression and show initiative, which you hope will lead to a positive relationship, facilitate discussions, and make working together much easier.

With the team at lunch

You: “How have your weekends been?”

Team: “It was great, I brought my wife and kids to a nice restaurant…”

While it might be tempting to talk about work-related matters, lunch breaks are meant to give you and your team a breather from work responsibilities. Asking them about their weekends will get the conversation rolling, which will also allow you to understand your colleagues on a personal level.

Chin chin. Having drinks with your colleagues even though all you want to do is crash in front of a Netflix no-brainer can really boost office friendships, and make 10-hour work days more palatable. (Photo by Drew Beamer / Unsplash)

With the team during happy hour

You: “You and your partner seem so happy in your photos, how did you guys meet?”

Colleague: “Yeah, we really are. We met in university during one of our orientation camps…”

Drinking with team members after work hours can be a great way to bond with each other. When the drinks are flowing, work talk is a big ‘no-no’. This is a chance to get to know your colleagues beyond the desk, as alcohol can break down any barriers between the public and the private. 

With a room full of strangers at a workshop

You: “Hi, I’m [name] from [company’s name]. Is this your first time at a workshop? It’s my first time and I hope to learn a lot from this.”

Stranger: “Hello, I’m [name] from [company’s name]. I’ve been to these many times, I suggest you take down notes quickly as…”

Sure, it is easy to keep to yourself in a room full of unfamiliar faces, but striking up conversations will not only make you feel less isolated, it also offers a chance to network. To warm things up, ask about the workshop; the stranger might even share notes with you if you have missed out on what the speaker said during a quick toilet break.

Starting conversations with people you have never met before may be daunting, but taking the first step will only work towards forming deeper connections with the people that you encounter as part of your job.

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