I learned from this question that sometimes making small talk is obligatory but I just wonder when to make it.

For instance, I notice that my team leader would initiate a non-work conversation when he finds someone in our team does not focus on the tasks at hand. Before reading the answer I thought small talks are just wasting time because it reminds me of some long informal discussions in the workplace. I personally only make informal conversations with co-workers at the water cooler or while dining together, and I never do that while working.

Background: I am a programmer.

  • Some people think of 'small talk' as some sort of broad, equally acceptable social platform where individuals try to connect to eachother for whatever reasons and intents.. – iLuvLogix Mar 6 at 15:52
  • During lunch :) – Bernhard Döbler Mar 6 at 17:38
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    Obligatory? no. Can it help? yes. When? within work, a minute or two at the beginning and end of a meeting or conversation, especially if only 2-3 people. Helps transition in and out, start and end on a relaxed mental state, etc. The great news is that the expectation of social skills from programmers is so low, you often get a free pass to completely ignore everyone if you want, and anything above that is bonus. – Pete W Mar 6 at 17:45

Generally the aim is to do it when people are already interrupted for some reason. After a meeting, or when getting ready to go to a meeting, after lunch, or just before lunch, or just starting the day, or just after the end of the day.

Note that people may be busy around those times too. If you know Bob has to leave at exactly closing time to pick up his kids from school, don't start a conversation with Bob around closing time.

The thing is, you don't want to interrupt people when there are busy, just for idle chatter.

The other thing to look for is times where work has slowed down. If you're working retail, and the number of customers is through the roof, it's not the time to start discussing last night's TV shows.

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    +1 Knowing when not to do it is an essential part of small talking. Colleagues who, when they are bored, force you into talking or at least listening although you apparently are busy, can be a nuisance. – puck Mar 7 at 8:11

Largely, it's a company-by-company, team-by-team, person-by-person, and even culture-by-culture basis on how "small talk" works. Some people are more sociable and can get everyone to gel into a conversation on safe topics (weather, vacation plans, weekend events, current non-political events, etc.).

Most of the time, it is used to fill the gap of time when an event is waiting to be started or to get people to ease into a conversation (sometimes it just helps kill 5 mins or break the ice). Some people are more of a "down to brass tacks" right away kind of personality so they either probably do not want to do the small-talk thing or they just want to wait in silence until any other required attendees join.

Again, it's largely driven by the group dynamics you're in. Try to figure out if there's chit-chat before/after meetings, at lunch, just in passing at common areas like water cooler, cafe counters, etc. ... fun tidbit: those are why those places exist: not to serve coffee/water but to get people talking, communicating, and building rapport.

On a personal note, I like to initiate some small-talk before a meeting starts (if I hop on early or we're waiting for someone else to join) or if we're in a meeting where we are waiting on something like a compilation result, loading an app/container/server, etc. It just keeps everyone engaged and keeps it light/fun to show we're humans. I know some people who like the first 5 mins of any meeting just to be chit-chat to get the ice to break. Others are more "Ok, here's the code where we are generating .... " and straight-to-it.

Just go with the flow and don't worry, be mellow about it all :)

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