Water Cooler Talk: A Guide to Remembering How to Speak to Coworkers in Person
You see that over there? That sterile plastic contraption with its two protruding taps and random gurgling noises?
The famous water cooler.
The watering hole of the office, the good ol’ hydration station, the tap water taproom that you once welcomed as a sanctuary. It’s a place to seek refuge when you had nothing on your plate, but you wanted to appear busy. If you haven’t noticed, the water cooler has lost its magic touch. After nearly two years of with only your pets and plants to socialize with during work hours, the water cooler feels almost intimidating.
Fear not. You haven’t lost the art of small talk, nor have you developed an irrational fear of water coolers. Instead, you’ve probably just had a small dip in mojo following the pandemic. Rather than let it fester and create a sense of dread any time you want to hydrate, check out our best tips and topics for water cooler convos. You’ll be speaking and sipping in no time.
Check in on people’s family
It’s a classic. “How is your [partner/kid/cousin three times removed] doing?” Everyone likes being asked about their nearest and dearest, and it’s a good way to let other people do all the talking. Plus, asking about the family is a nice building block to getting to know your colleagues a little more.
Just be careful not to inquire about family members that people aren’t on good terms with—“How’s your ex-wife?” isn’t the move. So, if you’re not sure, keep it vague with a “how’s everyone doing?”.
Don’t be afraid to insert stories about your own family and draw some parallels with experiences too. Linda from accounting has a brother that’s been staying on her couch for over a month now? No way, your uncle did the same thing to you a few years ago. Family, huh?
Oh, and for extra brownie points, ask for family photos (but only if you have some extra time because that almost guarantees excessive photos of Alex’s golden retriever).
Discuss the latest sports news
We like sports and we don’t care who knows. This one’s easy. You can never go wrong with a “did you watch the game last night?” doesn’t even matter what sport. There’s always a game on. Let them figure out what you’re talking about.
If you’re extra motivated to bring back the sizzle to the water cooler, start a fantasy league with your coworkers and taunt last weekend’s losers here. You could even assemble a scoreboard of shame above the water cooler, and you’ll pretty much guarantee conversation based on the shifting winners and losers in the league. Just make sure you’re not one of the losers (aka don’t draft Tom Brady).
Ask about everyone’s weekend activities
Another sound route for small talk is “how was your weekend?” Yes, this can only really be asked on a Monday or, at a push, a Tuesday, but from then onward you can adapt it to “do you have any cool plans for the weekend?”
And, when you get asked about your weekend in return, keep your response work-appropriate. Maybe you had a big night out and things got a little wild, but all Charlie from Sales needs to know is that you had fun with buddies in town. Let’s leave it at that.
Dive into movies and TV shows
Have your colleagues seen the most recent thriller? What about that Netflix series that everyone’s talking about? Movies and TV shows are pretty easy common ground. “Oh, you like that movie with Ryan Reynolds? Me too. How crazy.”
When you step into media exchanges, however, take care not to make assumptions about what people might like, or make recommendations that will leave a sour taste in their mouths. Our guess is that your sweet 60-year-old coworker Martha didn’t catch the latest episode of that serial killer drama.
That said, if all else fails, opt to complain about the number of streaming platforms that are available these days or the poor sound quality of TV production. If we have to turn the volume up to maximum only to jump out of our skin at the explosion in the next scene, we’re quitting.
So there you have it. A few tactical gems to get back into the water cooler groove. Don’t forget that how you dress can have a nice impact on your confidence in conversations, so take a peek at our bestsellers, and make the water cooler your catwalk.