Looking for expert tips for mastering the art of water cooler chat and how to build relationships in the workplace? Below we cover everything you need to know, from how to break the ice and strike a good first impression, to topics that work well and those that should be avoided.
The water cooler is a common gathering point in the workplace. It’s somewhere we go to take a short break and grab a drink of water. But, it’s also a place you frequently bump into coworkers. And, it’s a place you need to engage and chat with your colleagues.
Chatting with coworkers comes naturally to some. But, for others, it’s a more difficult process. What should you talk about? What topics are appropriate? And, how do you get started? Below we take you through everything you need to know.
Water Cooler Chats – Better Communication in the Workplace
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Expert Tips for Mastering the Art of Water Cooler Chats at Work
1: Breaking the Ice – Smile!
The most important thing is a smile. Make sure you greet your co-worker with a smile and a warm greeting. First impressions are key and this is a great way to start. Nothing beats a smile when you first meet someone. A smile is a universal way of expressing warmth and friendliness.
2: Ask a Question
Ask an open-ended, general interest question that allows your colleague to share their thoughts. Asking a question expresses an interest in the other individual and encourages them to engage in conversation. And, an open-ended question encourages dialogue and discourages a yes-no answer.
Make a genuine effort to listen and show an interest in what they have to say on the topic. Listening shows you value their opinion and have a genuine interest in what they have to say. It develops a sense of trust and helps you build a connection with your co-worker. Listening is key to mastering cooler chat.
4: Share Your Opinion
Once your coworker has finished making their point, share your opinion on the same topic. This shows you are interested in the subject they are talking about and allows the conversation to develop further. When sharing your opinion, remain respectful, avoid a negative tone, and keep it light. Levity and brevity.
Make an effort to keep the nature of the chat light and positive. Steer away from negative issues. Check out our topic guides below for a list of subjects you should aim for – and topics that should be avoided. Keeping the nature of the conversation positive helps develop trust.
Time is another key factor when chatting in the workplace. While it is important to build morale and make connections with coworkers, you should also be mindful of the time you spend chatting. Keep it brief. Everyone has work to do and if you stand around chatting too long it will be viewed negatively.
This one is common sense. Always be respectful of the person you are talking with and the topics you are discussing. It’s important you maintain a comfortable, positive, and friendly demeanor throughout the brief conversation.
Best Topics for Water Cooler Conversations: How to Engage with Colleagues at Work
The weather is always an easy way to strike up a conversation. It’s an ever-popular topic of chat throughout the world. We’re all exposed to the weather so it has relevance regardless of who you are talking to. It allows us to bond over a shared experience or complain about the intense heat or cold.
Sport is an excellent topic of conversation for bonding with co-workers. Not everyone shares an interest in sport. But for those that do, you’re on to a winner. Sport is one of the easiest and safest topics for discussion. It’s also a great way of developing a shared interest, developing a bond, and rarely causes offense.
Current Affairs and News
News and current affairs are one of the easiest ways to strike up a conversation at the office water cooler. It is the news after all – so most people will have an understanding of the topic. Our advice is to make sure you have a general understanding of world affairs and be able to hold a conversation on the subject. Try and avoid getting into politics or sensitive areas. And, avoid expressing strong or controversial personal views.
General interest includes topics such as movies, TV series, books, shows, and music. Depending on your audience – general entertainment is one of the best ways of developing a conversation. It’s a broad topic that can be adapted to suit most interests.
Jokes (Clean & Appropriate)
Sharing clean and appropriate jokes and funny stories are a great way to lighten the mood and get people laughing. People love laughing. It releases feel-good chemicals and boosts mood. Just remember, when telling jokes in the workplace, be careful of who you are chatting with and avoid taboo subjects and unsuitable material.
Hobbies and Interests
Discussing your hobbies and interests with coworkers can help develop a connection. Especially if it is a shared interest. Chatting about hobbies is a great way of establishing common ground with other people in your office. It helps you understand what makes others tick and build connections.
Topics to Avoid at the Water Cooler: Keeping it Respectful & Professional
It is not a good idea to discuss workplace conflicts at the water cooler. Doing so can cause tension and lead to further conflict. You need to keep things light and positive. And, workplace problems definitely do not fall into this category. Conflict should be discussed in an appropriate and private setting.
Sensitive Workplace Information
Discussing sensitive workplace information at the water cooler is unprofessional and is a breach of trust. It could even lead to a termination of employment. Water cooler conversations should be respectful, and light, and create a positive atmosphere.
Pay & Remuneration
Pay and remuneration are confidential topics and should definitely not be discussed at the water cooler. Chatting about pay and salary can trigger feelings of distrust and resentment. It can also deteriorate trust between co-workers, and between co-workers and management. Pay should only be discussed with your manager.
Religion & Politics
Religion and politics can be divisive topics of conversation. Whether standing at the water cooler or visiting friends for a dinner party – religion and politics are often off the agenda. Many people have sensitive feelings when it comes to both religion and politics. And, discussing them can unintentionally cause insult.
Nobody likes an office gossip. If you’ve heard some juicy gossip, it’s best to keep it to yourself. No matter how tempting it feels to share it at the office water cooler – you should resist the temptation. Steer clear of gossip and aim to build relationships and foster trust with your fellow co-workers.
Avoid discussing personal issues with coworkers. Personal issues are not for general discussion and are not suitable as a light topic for conversation at the water cooler. People openly discussing personal issues with coworkers in the corridors may be seen as unprofessional.