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Believe it or not, small talk is important in the workplace

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Love it or hate it, small talk is an essential way to break awkwardness and build relationships. That’s why it’s important that workers get it right if they’re to thrive at work.


However, it can be difficult, as according to Prodonovich Advisory principal Sue-Ella Prodonovich: “I know many professionals shy away from small talk. Some are too self-conscious. Others see it as irrelevant or even fake. Some just don’t get it at all.”

The importance of small talk was outlined in the study Small Talk and Theory of Mind in Strategic Decision-Making, which revealed: “When subjects engage in brief small talk interaction with strangers via an instant messaging software, they develop beliefs about the stranger’s personality traits, particularly extraversion, which affect their ensuing strategic behaviour.”

This can be very beneficial in a workplace setting, as relationships are strengthened. This, in turn, can improve a variety of other areas. According to Employsure, strong relationships can be beneficial because:

Improve employee morale: There is a saying that people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers. Employee morale will depend on whether your staff feel evidently safe and trusted. If you build strong relationships, you improve employee morale and engagement.
Team members are more productive: If employees have a good friend at work, they are seven times more likely to be engaged at their job.
Improve collaboration: If your employees have each other’s back and unconditional trust, they can freely collaborate and work. They also feel empowered to share ideas and opinions.

So, how can you nail small talk? According to Ms Prodonovich, there are six key ways to improve it:

  1. Start the small talk early on: Don’t save up your small talk for when you meet someone, whether that’s virtually or face to face. Use some of it when you’re setting up your meeting or talking to the person beforehand. Try to establish some rapport at this early stage by talking about something other than how busy you are.
  2. Remember that small actions count: You don’t have to go overboard when you do small talk, especially when the other person wants to get straight into the task at hand. Often, a brief smile, a bit of politeness and a “great to see you” is all you need to get things going.
  3. If you can’t think of anything else, just base your small talk on the meeting itself: Recap the purpose of the meeting, the process you’ll be following in the discussion (e.g. “Here are the points we’re covering; do you think we need to include anything else?”) and the outcome you hope for. This can at least get everyone talking and looking for common ground.
  4. Use it in the pre- or post-amble: You can always use your small talk on the way into a meeting or after it. Turn off your phone before you arrive at the meeting and talk to the people in reception about the traffic, the harbour view, the weather or whatever, on the way into the meeting or the way out. Again, if you can’t think of anything else to say on the way out the door, just ask them what they found interesting in the discussion or what they see as the next steps.
  5. Tell them the clock is off: Sometimes, it’s not you; it’s the other person. They clam up and get straight to business because they think you’ll be charging them for the small talk you engage in. So, make it obvious that the clock is off. Close your laptop or device, and even tell them explicitly that you’re not charging them.
  6. Stay flexible and open to connecting: Even if your first efforts fall flat, stay open to connecting. Think of the example of the diplomat above. Also, while thinking of some topics of conversation ahead of time may be a good ploy, think of some that will actually spark conversation rather than stop it. And try not to make it too obvious you have pre-rehearsed talking points.



When an organisation or its members can uphold their commitment to a cause or institution in the face of adversity, this is referred to as their morale. It is frequently used as a general evaluation of a group's resolve, submission, and self-control when they are charged with carrying out a superior's instructions.

Team building

The goal of team building is to instil a culture of interdependence and trust among employees so that they feel appreciated for the work they do and appreciate what others bring to the table. Although this may be implemented as a training programme, it mainly depends on morale and company culture to develop a long-lasting, maintained feeling of team.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.