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4 Ways to Ruin a Conversation at Work

There are plenty of ways to come off as a jerk at work: clipping your toenails at your desk, stealing lunches, or even wearing too much cologne or perfume. But you can avoid all those things and still come off as terrible if you’re not a good conversationalist. After all, we’re in the same office in order to interact with valued coworkers, are we not? If you can’t carry on a decent conversation, you’re going to miss out on all that camaraderie as well as opportunities to grow as a human being. So let’s try to avoid these mistakes, shall we?
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1. Don’t Listen

This is the biggie. If you’re having a conversation, as opposed to just standing in front of someone who’s speaking and waiting for your turn to talk, then you need to be engaged. This means not only being physically present, but mentally together enough to really think and process what’s coming out of someone’s mouth. Smiling and nodding might work great when a salesman has you cornered in your vestibule, but at work, you’re going to need to really think about what’s being said. Whether it’s a light conversation about weekend plans, or a detailed breakdown of a new project, don’t skimp on the brain cells (and put down that dang phone!). You’ll remember what that person on the other side of the conversation is saying, and be able to respond with a better retort than “uh huh,” too.

2. Don’t Make Eye Contact

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Cues like eye contact and body language tell the person that you’re not just counting the seconds until you can slink away and talk to someone more interesting. Try to avoid looking past someone over their shoulder while you talk. Give them the old friendly eye stare (a.k.a. eye contact) on the regular, and you’ll find that people get a sense of general well-being from talking to you. If you have problems making eye contact for long periods of time, that’s cool. Practice looking at eyebrows or noses instead of into someone’s eyes directly.

3. Don’t Ask Follow-up Questions (or Ask Too Many)

An important way to show that you’re really into what someone’s saying, is to process and then offer a “tell me more” opportunity. Did they just say they always think of great cost-saving ideas for the company? Ask them to elaborate. Did they just lay out a plan for what you’ll be working on for the next six months? Maybe get a few details on that. And if you’re tempted to pepper someone with a million tiny questions in a five-minute span, maybe hold back a bit and pick out the important ones first. Giving them a chance to breathe and process on their own is also important.

4. Don’t Share the Mic

Look, I know you’re eager to tell the story of your cousin’s funny weekend in Vegas, but wait your turn. When you’re having a conversation, it’s a two-way street of sharing information. Don’t interrupt, and don’t fly off into tangents that aren’t relevant to the topic. Especially when having a chat in a business setting, you’ll want to avoid over-sharing as well as focus-hogging. Nobody likes that one guy who always has the weekend anecdote to share, no matter how inappropriate or time-wasting it is. Leave those stories for your blog, dude.

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How do you make sure you’re having a great conversation? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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