Small Talk at Work

by Peter Post
While it may seem that all people do at work is work, there are down times, times when people socialize. It’s an inevitable part of the workday. How you socialize can have a direct impact on your relationships with colleagues. Are you inclusive when conversing, or do you exclude others from your conversation? Do you make an effort to move to a quiet location, away from people trying to work? As the new year unfolds, think about those non-work related conversations you have with colleagues throughout the day, and consider the following tips to help you build better relationships in 2016.


Be aware. Is you colleague distracted or unresponsive? This may not be a good time for him to chat. If that seems to be the case, take a step back and try engaging again another time.

Monitor your time. Even if others are willing to engage in conversation, take note of how much time you are spending socializing. Talking with colleagues should not interfere with you getting your work done. Your manager will notice, and excessive chatting could be a problem for you at your next review.

Pick your place. A conversation in the hallway may be convenient for you, but you may be blocking the way for others who are trying to get somewhere.

Invite others in. If another person approaches and wants to join in, make an effort to include him or her. If your conversation was private, you may need to switch to another topic and pick up the private conversation later.

Avoid disturbing others. If your conversation takes place near others who are trying to work, you may be unduly disturbing them. Take your conversation to a location where you won’t bother others.

Don’t whisper. While it may seem whispering is the polite thing to do, you may find it can backfire on you. Instead of appreciating your effort not to disturb them, the people nearby may think you are talking about them or gossiping.


Be pleasant. At the end of the conversation, disengage politely. “I’ve enjoyed chatting with you, but it’s time I get back to my calls.”

Be willing to say “No.” Sometimes, someone may try to engage you in a conversation when it’s not convenient or appropriate. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to engage; you can say “No.” Do it gently. Try saying something like: “I’m sorry. This isn’t a good time for me to take a break. Let’s catch up later.”

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at

Peter Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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