In a busy school, there often isn’t enough time to start a full conversation when you’re waiting on photocopying or filling your water bottle up. That said, you never want to be rude and you may need some classic small talk to get through an awkward wait to check your pigeonhole.
An all-time classic, if a tad overused (well, certainly in the UK). Let’s not be too quick to dismiss inane meteorological observations, though. A wee chat about the weather always gets the conversation started and is something everyone can get involved in. Really inclement, sustained weather can turn small talk into an epic saga that lasts days or even weeks, with the twists and turns to match Game of Thrones (snow’s the best fuel for small talk – the chat can get feverish when winter is coming).
2. So what are you up to tonight?
Ask about short-term plans for the day, or the night or the next day – it’s always good way to keep the chit-chat alive. It also shows a bit of interest without being (too) nosy. Remember a few details and you’ll have something to talk about next time you’re in the printer queue together – and it might just help a colleague feel a bit more like they’re part of things or that people are looking out for them.
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3. Give compliments
“Cool tie.” “Loved your talk at assembly this morning.” “Nice work ducking that flying Grange Hill credits-style sausage.” Whatever you choose, just say something nice. It makes the other person feel at ease and may open up a more meaningful conversation.
It’s a safe bet on a Monday – “Did you catch any sport over the weekend?” It’s a nice, open conversation (as long as football aggro is avoided) and a level playing field because there are so many sports to watch these days. Soon, you’ll start to build up a database of who likes certain sports and teams, and it makes the small talk even easier.
If you’ve seen something last night on the telly or are watching an amazing series on Netflix this is a really nice way in. Most people like to talk about the boxset they’re devouring – especially with someone else who's watching the same show.
Immediately following a holiday or on the run up to a holiday, travel plans are great small talk fodder. Who doesn’t like talking about what they are doing or have done on holiday? Just don’t bore anyone with minute details – or trap them in a slideshow depicting every last detail of that uneventful afternoon on the beach.
7. Share a funny anecdote or a joke
Tread carefully, of course – you don’t want to face the ramifications of telling an off-colour joke at school. But if appropriate for the occasion and you feel comfortable, share some funny story or a joke to lighten up the mood. This was something I found especially useful for breaking the tension one time after we found out that our school was to be inspected.
Of course, maybe you don’t have a problem standing in silence but I’ve always liked talking to colleagues, even those who work at the other end of a massive secondary school. A little bit of small talk in the beginning can actually lead to solid friendships in the future – and that in itself should be a reason to give it a go.
Adam Black is a teacher in Scotland. In 2019, he received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23