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How to Have Conversations With People Who You Don’t Have Much in Common With at Work

Social Connections

Few things bring a feeling of dread to your belly more than the invitation to the annual work holiday mixer when you’re an introvert or struggling with social anxiety. You must associate with people with whom your relationship is typically defined by office rules and make small talk. Lots of small talk. It’s enough to make you want to call in sick that day and pull the covers over your head.

However, proper etiquette demands making an appearance unless you genuinely are contagious. Furthermore, skipping out on the social aspects of work relationships can cripple your career progression.

Like it or not, you have to learn how to associate with various others, including those with whom you share zero interests. Here’s how to have conversations with people who you don’t have much in common with at work.

The Importance of Social Connections at Work

Why do you have to socialize with folks from work, anyway? After all, your paycheck stems from your labor, not from how well you chat it up with your colleagues. Isn’t it enough to do your job and go home?

Unfortunately, success in business hinges more on who you know than your professional knowledge base. Some estimates suggest that as many as 85% of new jobs are filled through networking, not want ads. Furthermore, forming connections is the only way to gain new clients and convince your supervisor you deserve a promotion.

This reality causes understandable anguish if you struggle with social anxiety. The stress can lead to poor decision-making, like drinking too much at your office holiday party to grease the wheels of conversation. You’re much better sticking with positive grounding techniques like “5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” where you list five things you can hear, followed by four you can see, three you can touch, two you can smell, and one you can taste.

The problem compounds if you’re female. Women already face a double standard in the workplace, where they’re often accused of being shrill if they appear too outspoken and confident. They’re also more likely to suffer from social anxiety, and those with PTSD may physically panic at the thought of certain social interactions.

However, your career success hinges on your ability to overcome. Here’s what to do.

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How Do You Manage Having No Topics to Talk About?

It’s the night before the big bash. You stand in front of your mirror to rehearse. However, what on earth should you discuss with people who may not share common interests? How do you manage having no topics to talk about?

Fortunately, workplace etiquette makes it easier to develop appropriate small talk. It’s verboten to mention controversial topics like politics and religion in such settings. Instead, why not stick to one of the following safe topics of conversation that nearly anyone can relate to?

  • Shows, movies, and plays: Have you been to the theater lately? Did you dive headfirst into the latest Netflix binge-watch? Ask colleagues what they’re watching these days.
  • Food, restaurants, and cooking: Are you into health? Discussing some of your healthy swaps that worked, resulting in a fantastic dish, is okay. However, you should probably refrain from convincing anyone else to follow a vegan or keto diet plan (although sharing what you do is OK if you’re asked).
  • Local happenings: A traffic jam is never a pleasant reprieve unless it provides a handy conversation starter when you don’t know what to say. Is there a new restaurant or shopping plaza opening soon? Have temperatures soared? Chit-chat about what’s going on near you.
  • Favorite hobbies: How do you know you have no topics to discuss with your colleagues if you don’t ask about their interests? You might find a fellow adult “Dungeons and Dragons” fan or someone who loves to relax by crocheting as much as you do.
  • Sports: Friendly rivalries can make for pleasant banter.
  • Travel: Have you taken any fun trips lately? Has a colleague recently returned? Ask to see pictures and you’ll have an office friend for life.
  • Recommendations: Nearly everyone wants to be of help to others when it costs them nothing but advice. Ask them where you can find a stylish blouse like theirs or what grocery store they recommend for the best prices.


How to Have Conversations With Coworkers: A Primer

You’ve reviewed your list of safe small talk topics and are ready to rock the party. Your next step is to adjust your mindset, which takes a little work. How can you win people over and make them like you, even if you have little in common? Here’s a speedy primer on how to have conversations with coworkers.

1. Prep Yourself

Is there someone in your family circle who will rehearse with you? If so, invite them to role-play. You’ll feel much more comfortable making conversation when you rehearse a few in advance and feel confident in a smooth delivery.

2. Use Approachable Body Language

The lovely thing about networking events is that people will eventually talk to you if you put yourself in proximity and show interest. One way to do so is through body language. What should and shouldn’t you do? Heed these tips:

  • Appear relaxed, but don’t slouch or slump.
  • Uncross your arms – keep them open at your sides. Crossing them in front of you makes you appear defensive. If seated, uncross your legs or do so at the ankles.
  • Lean forward to demonstrate interest.
  • Nod and smile at appropriate places.
  • Maintain eye contact but not a death stare. Look away every few seconds so you don’t appear hostile or threatening.
  • Use mirroring. People like others who resemble them. You unconsciously signal kinship by assuming parts of your colleague’s style without mimicking it.

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3. Practice Active Listening

Active listening involves remaining mindful in your conversation. Instead of thinking about how you will reply, you engage with what your partner is saying, perhaps pausing to reflect before responding. If you catch yourself thinking of what you want to say next, redirect your attention to the speaker.

4. Ask Questions

Some of the best conversationalists say relatively little themselves. Their secret? They ask questions so that they can listen more than they speak. When you mindfully tune into what your partner is saying, ask yourself what you’d like to know more about, then speak up and ask them.

5. Give Genuine Compliments

People appreciate others who notice their hard efforts. If a colleague did something that helped you at work, let them know.

A word to the wise? It’s safer to avoid complimenting physical appearance. If you must do so, stick to innocent articles of clothing, as in, “I adore that blouse! Where did you get it?”

6. (Advanced) Take the Initiative

You survived your first work-related social event, which wasn’t that bad. Next time, step up to the plate.

Instead of waiting for someone to approach you, initiate a conversation with them. Pro-tip: Seek someone who looks equally uncomfortable. You’ll get to play their hero while improving your social skills.

How to Have Conversations With People Who You Don’t Have Much in Common With at Work

If you struggle with social anxiety, you might struggle to manage having no topics to talk about with your colleagues. You may shy away from workplace events that hold back your career progress.

Overcome your fear by following the above tips on how to have conversations with coworkers. You’ll enjoy your 9-to-5 grind more while making connections that can open career doors.

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