Fresh From the Cube Farm: 10 Easy Conversation Starters While Waiting to Sing Happy Birthday to a Total Stranger in Your Department|
Whether it’s a singing “Happy Birthday” to the weird guy in your department over cupcakes, attending the annual summer outing, or just casually waiting for the water fountain, carrying on a conversation with a distant coworker isn’t always easy. At large companies and small ones, you may have one of these encounters with (gasp) someone who’s name you don’t even know.
But even if you’re still “in the pipeline” on the whole “job search” thing, mastering a seemingly frivolous skill like the 30-second awkward pause in the office can be a great boon to you both during your interview process and when you eventually land an office job (if that’s your thing). Being able to put people at ease doesn’t come naturally to everyone– but with practice, you can fake your way into making a whole lot more people feel more comfortable in the seemingly meaningless moments at your office than you would if you didn’t practice this skill.
Work events are important to attend. Even the seemingly idiotic ones– the “Happy Birthdays,” the happy hours– give you a chance to talk to people outside of your circle, to branch out professionally, and to become part of the company culture. People do business with people they like– and you should want to be one of those people at the company you work for.
But how exactly do you break the ice when “Do you come here often?” just doesn’t work– and, maybe more importantly, when you would rather slap yourself in the face with a frozen fish filet?
Here are ten things to say during the awkward 3-minute period when you’re waiting to sing “Happy Birthday” to a total stranger in your department:
1. Are you involved in this big project?
If there’s a big project going on, whether it’s a new client, big case or looming deadline, not everyone will be involved, but everyone will know about it. If the person you talk to isn’t involved, there’s still conversation to be had about how the team handling the project is getting all of the work done.
2. Isn’t she the greatest?
Find a way to compliment someone else you both work with. If you know someone else in their department, talk about a time you worked with him, or if you’re celebrating someone’s birthday, begin a conversation around her. This is of course to be focused on positive attributes. Talking to people you don’t know about the people you are less fond of in the office is a no-no.
3. Did you read this [very random fact or extremely useful news byte] in the company newsletter?
Let me clue you in. Most people don’t read the company newsletters. So if you do, you can actually talk about what’s in them and be an informed member of the company, helpful to your fellow coworkers.
4. Any plans for the weekend?
Appropriate both on Thursday and Friday, this is one of my favorites to ask. Even if people don’t have plans to share about, you can likely get an understanding of other things they may like to do or important people in their life. Say for example they just say that their daughter is going back to college soon and their going to do some shopping, this opens up the chance to talk about the daughter, a great topic to note and ask about another time.
5. How was your weekend?
Generally saved for Mondays, this question is a gold mine similar to the previous one. One of the most important part of asking these questions though is to have a good answer to give back. When people ask how your weekend was, the response “too short” is in fact, too short. Give them a reason to talk to you more or ask more questions. Even as simple as saying I watched marathons of Friends may spark a mutual interest of tv shows, or watching them in marathons.
6. Did you watch that sporting event/ awards show/ TV show finale last night?
This one is great because it mixes up your normal go-to questions, but isn’t always appropriate. That baseball game last night that was just an average game? Don’t bring it up. But once a year events, walk-off homeruns and playoff season is usually safe. With this, try to understand your audience. The guy with the sports memorabilia in his cube? Probably good to mention this. But don’t start talking about the Bachelorette finale with him. If you know a coworker loves a show, try reading a recap every once in a while just to be able to be simpatico with him or her. Seriously. Try it.
7. I love your top/dress/shoes/watch. Where is it from?
This is one of my personal favorites, because many people pride themselves on their fashion sense or look and everyone loves being complimented. Do this only with sincerity though. If you hate her dress, don’t comment on it.
8. Your lunch looks delicious! Did you make that?
There are always more people in the kitchen around lunchtime, and certainly more opportunity to meet people you don’t know. Without being a food spy, if someone’s lunch looks delicious, tell them! It could be leftovers from something they’ve made, a new restaurant to try, or maybe just something you hadn’t thought of bringing for lunch before. Food is always a great conversation starter if it’s there.
9. I’m so excited for cupcakes!
Find a way to be enthusiastic about your day or the event you’re meeting people at. If it’s a birthday, you can be excited about the cupcakes, or saying that you’re excited to try a different coffee than you normally do. The key here is to say something positive. Don’t be the person who says having cupcakes for a birthday is a waste of time.
10. How’s your day going?
The easiest and best way to start a conversation is just to say hi. Your coworkers don’t want to come off as awkward either, so they will likely say more than a few words if you are going to be in the same place for a little while.
What’s your favorite intro for your potentially awkward office encounters?