Conversational skills are learned, and that means they can be practiced and improved. Whether you are confident and charismatic as a conversationalist or timid and reserved, polishing up on your conversational skills at work is a great way to build connection, increase your likeability factor, and strengthen interpersonal relationships. Here are 7 simple ways to improve your conversations at work.
1. Start the conversation. Even if you are shy, a simple way to initiate a workplace conversation is to follow up on something you know your colleague is involved in or has been working on. People like to be asked about themselves. For example, you could ask Hey Carol, how did the conference go last week? or So when will you be starting on the new project in Accounting? The goal is simply to be friendly, positive, and interested.
2. Keep the topic of conversation workplace appropriate. While it’s expected that you and your colleagues will occasionally discuss topics that involve life outside work, be mindful that you are not getting TOO personal with your topic. How was your vacation? is likely to be perceived as a socially polite question and not offensive. While How is your sex life? is obviously very personal and likely to offend (and not appropriate for the workplace, no matter how curious you are about the answer.)
3. Be aware of your timing. Take a moment to consider or ask if this is a good time for your colleague to have a conversation. This shows you are courteous and attending to your colleague’s needs, and not just acting on your own desire to converse now. If you are unsure, ask Do you have 2 minutes? If they are too busy, they will let you know.
4. When you ask a question, really listen to the answer. Even if you ask a common conversational question like How are you? it is important to stick around to hear your colleague’s answer! No one likes to feel unheard or dismissed. The vibe you give off as a great conversationalist comes mainly from your positive intention here. Asking Hey Bob, how is the expansion project coming along? while you continue to walk down the hall past him, is likely to send the negative message that you don’t really intend to listen to the answer. Ask. Then listen.
5. Play back some of the things you are hearing your colleague say to let him/her know I’m with ya, I’m present in this conversation with you, and I’m paying attention to what you are saying. Playing back what the person is saying to you is also called “paraphrasing” and it can open the door for continued conversation and rapport building eg What?! Your dog drank the entire bottle of Bailey’s!?
6. Share your opinion as your opinion, and don’t state it as if it is a fact. No one likes to converse with a person that comes off as a Know-It-All—as if their opinion is the only opinion that matters. Saying The green uniforms are terrible. could come off as an annoying statement of fact. This could quickly shut down the conversation with your colleague. Sharing your opinion as your own opinion, however (and seeking your colleague’s opinion) is likely to keep the convo alive and interactive eg In my opinion, the blue uniforms would have been the better option. What do you think?
7. When you can, give a genuine compliment. We all like to be recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated at work. As you listen throughout the conversation, see if you can deliver a sincere compliment to your colleague like You finished under budget?! You’re amazing!! A timely accolade can go a long way in building a healthy work relationship with your colleague.
Dale Burt is a Conflict Management Consultant. As an experienced mediator and trainer, she helps to resolve and prevent conflict in the workplace. Her company, Conflict Management Solutions, is committed to helping your workplace work better ~ one employee relationship at a time. Follow Dale on Twitter or, LinkedIn, or call her at 905-903-0951 with your conflict question.