5 Tips Facilities Managers Can Turn Small Talk into Smart Conversation

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on September 2, 2015

Because FM Leaders have so many job duties, successful Facilities managers recognize it is important to possess a broad skill set, which includes interpersonal relationship skills. Communicating with team members, tech vendors, C-suite, or any other job acquaintance is necessary and usually a regular occurrence. And, although some conversations may be brief or off the cuff, they don’t have to necessarily be fluff conversations. With the appropriate deftness, a skilled conversationalist can illicit the types of answers and responses they are looking for, without making it feel as if you are in a high pressure work situation. Here are some tips for developing your “smart” talk abilities.

Arm Yourself With Worthwhile Topics

News Small Talk

Develop a habit of catching news of some type on a daily basis. Just a quick scan of the headlines is plenty, along with reading a few articles or catching a few stories that are particularly unusual or interesting. A good conversationalist is at least vaguely familiar with current events and can discuss trending topics about noteworthy world leaders, celebrities, notable weather or astronomical events, and other general interest stories. 

Great non-controversial conversation starters include the other person’s hobbies, travel destinations, likes and dislikes (music, television, movies, books, etc.), things everyone can relate to (the traffic oddities of your area, long waits at airports, a new attraction at the local zoo or museum, etc.) 

Toss Out Ideas Until Something Catches On 

When you’re starting a conversation, not all topics will catch on right away. Sometimes the other person simply doesn’t have much to say about that subject or maybe it just takes time for them to warm up. Keep your first attempts light and breezy. When something seems to catch their attention, hover on that topic. 

Ask Leading, Open-Ended Questions

Try to steer clear of questions that can easily be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or another single word. Replace the ‘do you’ questions with ‘tell me about’ questions. Consider this conversation: 

You: ‘What do you do for a living?’ 

Them: ‘I’m a small business owner.’ 

That isn’t a good conversation. You need to open them up more. Try this instead: 

You: ‘So, tell me about your line of work?’ 

Them: ‘Oh, I own a tech startup that has created a “workspace-as-a service tool.” We have partnered up with organizations that have excess space and through our app the marketplace is able to reserve this space on an as need basis for a fee. The marketplace benefits because they can access the right space at the right time in the right location and the organizations benefit by maximizing a valuable asset.’ 

By changing the wording just slightly, you’ve started a smart conversation without prying or being pushy at all. 

Return Meaningful Answers to Their Questions

If the person with whom you’re having the conversation is skilled at conversational ping pong themselves, they’ll probably ask you some questions, too. Avoid the one-word answers and offer thorough, meaningful answers of your own. This doesn’t mean spill your life story, but it does mean going past the surface answers. 

Here is when being a facilities manger really comes in handy. You know a lot of stuff that is quite interesting to others. Even those within your company don’t know nearly as much as you do about your facilities and how those spaces are used. People actually find it fascinating to learn ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, even when you take that information for granted and may even think that stuff is boring. 

For example, snippets of information like the bathrooms in the lobby of the main building where the cleaning crew has to stock 20,000 paper towels per week or the light bulb in the third floor conference room that has been burning continually for over five years — people get a kick out of knowing these trivial little oddities. Scour your facilities management software for interesting tidbits about your properties and facilities. 

A good rule of thumb is to follow the A.R.E. rule of conversation: Anchor, Reveal, and Encourage. Anchor means to anchor or ground the conversation in a subject that you have a mutual interest in talking about. Reveal means to disclose meaningful things about yourself to keep the conversation moving. Encourage refers to encouraging the other person by asking more questions when they offer information in order to get beyond the surface and develop a smart conversation. 

Avoid Inappropriate Topics in a Business Conversation 

Money Small Talk Conversation

When you open up and expose who makes the most money, you’ve put the conversation on unequal footing. Leave out mentions of how much you make or what big purchases you’ve made, like how much your car or home cost.

There are some topics to avoid if you’re going to be a stellar conversationalist. Here are the subjects to steer clear of: 

  • Religion & Politics (if you disagree, it’s easy to stray into hostile conversation) 
  • Problems at work (not only is it boring and negative, but there could be unexpected consequences, for example, you never know what could get back to your boss) 
  • Family and/or relationship problems (until you are intimate friends, family troubles are just too much information) 
  • Health issues (honestly, these are boring and many people find these to be gross) 
  • Income and/or Expensive purchases (it sounds like bragging and is a real turnoff) 
  • Hobbies that could be offensive to some (building model airplanes or growing an herb garden is fine — just avoid talking about controversial hobbies like hunting, volunteering for special interest groups like Sav-A-Life or LGBT groups, etc.) 

A skilled conversationalist understands its not always how much you say, but rather what you say and, most importantly, what you hear from the person you’re talking to. Small talk can just be that, too, and it can still help in creating stronger bonds amongst your team and colleagues. Once you have established an ease of conversing, you’ll find all types of talk, from small to boardroom, will take on a more meaningful and productive tone.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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