It is easy to make new friends when you are away, sitting on a beautiful beach and listening to the sound of waves, relaxed and chilled out. But when you are in an office, surrounded by people who don’t share your passions and interests?…well, that’s a completely different story. At least for me.I’m not a person who easily makes and sustains meaningless conversations. How long can you talk about the weather, celebrities (especially, when you don’t know much about them), or even about your workload? I admire people who effortlessly can chat about these things without the awkward silence breaks in between.
I recently gave myself a task to try a little harder and actually talk to people. I had a chance during the last staff meeting. I was sitting with 5 others from the other teams and started to chat to the person next to me, who has been working with me for a while now:
Stranger: Good, thanks. You?
The Blond: yeah, not bad. It’s busy, but you know? It’s better this way, at least I’m not bored. How’s your job going?
Stranger: Oh, it’s ok. Also busy. I’ve got thousands of phone calls to make.
The Blond: oh. Good luck (with a smile)
Stranger (also with a smile): Thanks.
Silence, silence, silence – during which I am trying to think of something to say.
Stranger: I broke the printer.
The Blond (terrified and fascinated): No!! really??
So, the Stranger proceeded to tell me how he broke the printer and what happened next. I kept nodding and smiling and saying ‘oh’ and ‘ahh’ during the best bits, and we talked for another 5 min – easy! I think I made a friend!
I also found out that there are quite a lot of conversations I could have about food. This is a great subject! People love to talk about what they like and dislike and what they had for dinner last night. I had a nice chat with one person who, for what seemed like a great amount of time, was talking about her meal she was planning to cook that evening.
‘And then I will put ketchup on that…Hmm..I can’t wait’ – she finished with a smile. This was the first time in my life when I realized that a toast with cheese can bring someone joy and absolute fulfillment.
Recently I was sitting next to a girl in a refectory. We were both having our lunch and I tried to come up with a subject for discussion. She took a first bite of her lasagna. ‘Oh no!’ – she suddenly sighed.This is going to be good – I thought – Finally something to talk about! ‘What? – I asked – ‘What happened??’ ‘I forgot to add salt!’ – She looked really disappointed. ‘Oh no…’ I said. And that was it – my bright and fascinating encounter with another stranger at work. Not so good this time. We spent the rest of our lunch in total silence.
There are two great places to bond with the others in the office: water cooler, or kitchen if you don’t have one, and printer area. Printer is this magical thing that brings people together. If it’s a larger office, there is always going to be a queue around the machines as people tend to print quite a lot. The possibilities for conversations are endless: you can casually ask ‘How are you?’ and add, with a bit of compassion ‘Also waiting huh?’ After that, it’s easy: complaining – this is what people like to do the most. You can add your misery to all of it, telling them a story about how the other Stranger broke the printer before, how you struggle day after day with the stubborn machinery, or how much trees you waste every day. The choice is yours.
It’s also important to choose a good time. At the beginning of the week you can ask them what they did during the weekend. Most of the time people will tell you a short story of what they did. It doesn’t matter that you don’t give a shit. Pretend that you’re listening, nod, say ‘yes’, ‘aha’ etc. Then, tell them something that you did. Remember, they don’t give a shit either and probably won’t be listening, so you can tell them anything you want: yes, you had a great sex with David Beckham and then went shopping to Harrods, and you bought this lovely dress from Versace. And now you are going back to work because you don’t have money to buy bread for. Simple!
At the end of the week, you can ask them about their plans for the upcoming weekend, and tell them about yours. The same rule as above applies here.
The other great periods are: Easter, bank holidays and Christmas. Last year I had so many chats about others’ Christmas plans that I started to loose track of things. One person’s granddad had died in November, another was planning to have the Christmas dinner at their grandfather’s home in Wales. It was slightly embarrassing when just before Christmas I talked to both of them, at two different occasions, and I confused one granddad with another – oops!Anyway, most of people love Christmas and they will do quite a lot to brag about their plans. So many times I spoke to someone I had never spoken to before about their Christmas and I even told them a few things about myself. To my disappointment in January they even didn’t remember who I was – well, at least I made some friends for the 12 days, right?
If anything else fails, you can talk about Kraut