I am not antisocial; I will happily say hello and have a conversation if there's one to be had.

I am not interested in talking for the sake of filling space, sometimes I would be required to share the minute details of a boring week/month with a stranger just to answer "What have you been up to?"

How can I limit the chances of offending someone when I really have no interest in sharing

  • Just curious what situation this is a problem in - e.g. do you have a shared office plan and your colleagues are distracting you from your work with their attempts at small talk? – Brandin May 6 '15 at 10:36
  • If it were me I'd discard the whole "not offending" premise. If someone's offended by your lack of socialisation, that's their problem. – PointlessSpike May 6 '15 at 12:07

You are in control of the amount of information you disclose. You can say oh nothing, watched some GoT and sat in my pajamas covered in pizza crumbs all day and be done with it. Manners require you return the question but even if you don't some will let you know of their day regardless. Whichever way you cut it, there's an amount of interaction you will have to face every day.

Therefore my advice would be:

  • Be as generic as possible in your response
    If you don't give any openings for follow-ups, you minimise the chance of said follow-ups occurring. My example above is bad in that respect: it gives an opening to talk about GoT, pyjamas, and pizza.

  • Do not ask back
    Some get the message and don't bother you. Others don't. I imagine most have no interest in your day whatsoever, but keep greasing the social atmosphere gears to maintain a pleasant environment. Out of which follows:

  • Make allowances
    Have a threshold for social interaction each day. If you are prepared to spend, say, 10 minutes every day talking about nonsense, doing so may stop bothering you so much.

Caveat: Conversing on daily trivia is part of the human experience. Failure to participate or reciprocate in a (culturally-dependant) reasonable degree may lead to your being branded as grumpy, weirdo, or indeed antisocial.

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    Not asking back is just rude and won't help your career. You don't have to listen to ten minutes of news about their kid learning to pop bubblegum, but you want to be friendly with as many people as possible. Most people know enough to just give a short answer. You can avoid the rest. – kevin cline May 5 '15 at 1:14
  • @kevincline I agree, what the OP wants to do is definitely not a career booster. – rath May 5 '15 at 4:13
  • To be clear, while this is posted on workplace, this is a situation that I come across far more often at, for example, the checkout lane. The degree at which suggestions are implemented will of course vary depending on the environment. – Brendaux Petiza May 5 '15 at 4:58
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    @BrendauxPetiza You have a lot more leeway to be rude (or laconic) in a checkout lane, which is why an answer on how to handle a situation there will not be applicable to your place of work, and therefore off-topic here. – rath May 5 '15 at 5:23
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    @PointlessSpike, although an intent to be hurtful might not be present, refraining from smalltalk can very easily become offensive in many contexts. Presumably, that's why the OP is asking this question here in the first place. – teego1967 May 6 '15 at 10:15

The other answers suggest deflecting the interaction in some way, and that's alright in scenarios where you really can't talk because you have something to do. But you can't do that all the time and anyway you're saying that you simply DON'T WANT to make smalltalk.

What I think you're missing, however, is that the smalltalk is not intended to actually probe what you did last weekend, or whatever trite subject the smalltalk is about.

The point of smalltalk is to develop rapport. For many people it is important that they don't have the feeling that they're working with strangers. The smalltalk is a way to make a human connection. You don't have to try to precisely answer the questions or ask carefully considered questions (it is not like stackexchange). All you have to do is demonstrate that you're engaged with and empathetic to the concerns of the people you're talking to.

When you're asked a question about what you did over the weekend, it is not expected that you literally describe what you did in any kind of detail. All you have to do is say something nice or funny or interesting. You have a lot of latitude in whether or not what you say has anything to do with last weekend or not.

Instead of finding ways to get out of smalltalk, accept that it is a reality of interacting with coworkers and perhaps don't take the smalltalk too seriously in terms of answering "the questions" in the dialog.


Remember that most such questions are social noise, and neither expect nor require a real answer. It is entirely appropriate to give an empty response, if you are so inclined. "Nothing much, same old thing." Unless you know they're actually interested and you feel like sharing, it's actually polite not to give them details.

(Also, practice saying "Sorry, I'm busy now; I'll catch up with you later". And there was a period when my office was at a natural gathering spot and I had to accept that sometimes i'd have to tell people "could you please step around the corner? I'm getting distracted by the conversation." Note that these make the issue mind rather than blaming the other party, so they're less likely to offend.)


When I have a person hitting me with small talk at work that I don't really know well or just don't want to talk to, I talk about work.

"How was your weekend?"

Answer: "It was OK. But now I have to get these three plugins created before noon and about 20 emails behind."

And even better if it is someone that you kind of work with...

"What have you been up to?"

Answer: "Been trying to get this new CMS out. Hey, weren't you labeled as a part owner of one of the sections of the CMS. Can you get me the top level categories needed by the end of day? I will go ahead and shoot you an email right now. I am so glad you stopped by, I forgot to get to your section."


TL;DR: You could wear headphones, but be aware that it can be antisocial.

One of the best ways to prevent people talking to you when you don't want to is to make yourself inaccessible. In an office environment, you can often achieve this wearing headphones. However, it is not something you want to be doing all day every day, or it's most likely to have a negative impact on your work relationships.

I know that if I see someone wearing headphones either at their desk, on the bus or whatever, they normally don't want to strike up a conversation at that time. Of course, you should take them off if you see someone you DO want to or need to talk to :)

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    If an employee wears headphones for the full 8 hours of their day and refuses to talk even at lunch or at the start/end of the day, they will quickly be branded a social outcast. This would severely damage a person's working relationships and their future career in most places. – clairebones May 5 '15 at 9:13
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    @clairebones You are absolutely right. I have edited my answer accordingly. – Jane S May 5 '15 at 11:15

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