How to nail office small talk if you’re worried about sounding awkward

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Lauren Geall
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New research from LinkedIn has revealed over half of young professionals feel as if they’ve lost their ability to make small talk during the pandemic.

Whether you love it or hate it, small talk is an essential part of life – especially in an office environment

Not only can watercooler chat or grabbing lunch with a colleague help you to gain a sense of belonging at work, but small talk is also an essential ‘soft skill’ that helps you to build interpersonal connections, which in turn will help you to better communicate with your colleagues and make your voice heard.

After a year and a half of working from home, however, many of us are feeling a little out of practice when it comes to office socialisation. Just as you might have realised when you first met friends for a drink after lockdown, communicating IRL is very different to communicating via video call – so it’s no surprise that many of us are worrying about this part of the return to the office.  

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Indeed, including to new research from LinkedIn, 84% of young professionals are feeling ‘out of practice’ when it comes to office life, with 57% feeling like they’ve lost their ability to make small talk completely.

With small talk being such a big part of office life, you might be feeling worried about going back to the office if you’re feeling a little out of practice – but there are things you can do to make your experience a little easier. To get you started, Stylist asked workplace psychologist Anjula Mutanda to share a few top tips. Here’s what she had to say. 

Use conversation openers

If you’re not a big fan of small talk, having some introductory questions up your sleeve to open up a conversation is a really great way to get started, Mutanda explains.

“Being able to make an introduction by saying something like, ‘Hi, I’m Anjula, how are you? What department do you work in?’ and asking other simple questions is a way to get straight in and break the ice,” Mutanda explains. “Something as simple as that is really effective.” 

Two women talking in the office
“Instead of thinking about how people are judging you, try to think about how you feel and what you want to project.”

Focus on yourself rather than what others think

When you’re feeling awkward or are worried about how you’re going to be perceived, it’s easy to find yourself looking at yourself from the outside in – something that’s only likely to make you feel more awkward. However, shifting your focus onto how you’re feeling on the inside could make all the difference.

“Change your mindset around,” Mutanda explains. “Instead of thinking about how people are judging you, try to think about how you feel and what you want to project. 

“For example, think about your body language. If you stand up straight, you immediately feel and look more assertive, whereas if you’re avoiding eye contact and slumping at your desk, it’ll not only make you feel less confident, but it’ll change the way people relate to you.” 

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She continues: “Something as simple as smiling at your colleague when you walk past them in the corridor is also effective, too. Not only is smiling contagious, but it also helps bonding and is a massive destressor.”

Be aware of how you’re feeling

In order to communicate with others effectively, you need to help yourself be your best. To do this, Mutanda recommends using the ‘traffic light system’ to work out how you’re feeling and what you can do to support your wellbeing.

“If you’re green, that means you’re good to go – you’re feeling positive,” she explains. “If you’re amber, you might just need to take a breather – do the tissue box exercise, grab a glass of water or walk around the block for five minutes, just to bring you back to yourself. And if you’re red, you could find a trusted colleague to have a chat and share what you’re struggling with.” 

A group of people talking in the office
“It’s OK to feel anxious – it’s actually completely normal.”

Know that it’s OK to be anxious

Last, but by no means least, know that it’s OK to feel anxious about the prospect of making small talk after so long working from home.

“It’s OK to feel anxious – it’s actually completely normal,” Mutanda says. “And once you realise that, it’ll actually help to bring your anxiety down a level.” 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.