Harvard Researchers Say Skip the Small Talk — Here Are 3 Essential Career-Builder Tips

Follow this advice to get results from workplace conversations.
  • The next time you’re pressed to make small talk, ask questions.
  • An inquisitive mind signals engagement, focus, and — according to Harvard researchers — likability.
  • Boost your career by showing interest in your colleagues and asking questions about their lives and hobbies.

It’s a universal truth that hackneyed topics lead to hackneyed conversations. In the workplace setting where communicative extroverts are valued, and success is partly predicated on your appeal and likability, Harvard University researchers have unlocked the keys to building your network and boosting your career.

The next time you run into a co-worker in the break room, kitchen or another shared space, rather than commiserating over rush hour traffic, celebrating the home team’s recent win or commenting on the weather, take this career advice: A 2017 Harvard study suggests that workplace conversations should dive deeper than surface topics and that the best way to get to know your co-workers is by asking meaningful questions.

Researchers analyzed more than 300 conversations and deduced that “people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.”

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3 Tips for Conversations That Can Help Your Career

Every conversation has to start somewhere, so instead of shirking from the interaction, reframe your attitude and begin with a solid jumping-off point for the sake of building your career. Use the following tips for engaging conversations in the workplace.

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1. Rely on Your Sense of Sight

The next time you’re in a co-worker’s office, scan their workspace and make a mental note of interesting trinkets, family photos or any personal items that spark your interest. Without overstepping any boundaries, the next time the opportunity presents itself, strike up the nerve to ask and let the conversation unfold. There’s a good chance that co-worker has an interesting backstory they’d love to share.

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2. Divulge Information About Yourself

You shouldn’t have to dig too far for conversation topics when you’re pretty interesting yourself. Open up about your personal life — within reason — and share where you plan on taking your next vacation, the new podcast you’re listening to, or how your triathlon training is coming along. Especially if you’re a remote employee or new to the team, sharing your hobbies will help you find common ground among your colleagues.

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3. Rip Off the Bandage and Go for It

Small talk can send introverts running in the opposite direction, but don’t let your nerves get the best of you and run the risk of losing precious face time with colleagues or superiors. Office hierarchies can be rigid and run deep, but on a chance encounter with a superior in the parking lot or elevator, strike up a meaningful conversation.

Go the extra step with these tips to create meaningful relationships at work.

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About the Author

Stephanie Asymkos

Stephanie is a New York City-based writer. Her work frequently appears in Business Insider, where she's a lifestyle contributor. She's versed in the topics of social media, lifestyle, personal finance and travel.

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