Small Talk – Top 5 Most Annoying Workplace Cliches


You don’t actually want to know how I’m doing, and I don’t actually want to know the details of your life as you’re passing by.  It doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or don’t care about you.  It’s just that we can’t have a serious conversation in the next two minutes, and I don’t care to spend two minutes reciting meaningless pleasantries.  All we’re really saying to each other is, “I acknowledge your existence” and “I acknowledge your existence, too”.

So, without further ado, here is my top five list of annoying workplace conversational clichés, in descending order from least to most annoying.

5.  “Working hard, or hardly working?” This was a little funny the first time I heard it, 20 years ago!  Now it’s just dumb.

4.  “Thank goodness it’s Friday!” For one thing, not everyone is lucky enough to have a Mon – Fri schedule these days.  Besides, is work really so bad that you count the minutes until it’s over?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t do jobs that I hate.  Don’t get me wrong, I like time off, but I don’t get any pleasure by pretending that every waking moment of work is utter agony and that going home will be like getting out of prison after a 20 year sentence.

3.  “Don’t work too hard.” If I have a lot to do, I’ll probably work harder.  If not, I won’t work so hard.  But these 4 words have been repeated for so many decades now that they’ve lost all meaning.  I think they were intended to be a joke towards someone who has an easy job.

2.  “How was your weekend?” Unless you actually want to sit down and talk about our weekends, don’t ask.  I have no interest in saying “it was fine,” and then asking you the same question just so that you can give a similar response.  I once had an interesting coworker who told me of his weekends fishing, camping, or ghost hunting.  Now that, I’ll gladly ask about.

  1.  You – “How’s it going?” Me – “Fine”  You – “Well, I’m glad that you’re fine”.  When people ask how I’m doing, I just say “fine” and leave it at that.  I’m not going to follow that with “And how are you doing?” just to hear you also say “fine”.  It’s not to be inconsiderate, but let’s be honest, you didn’t actually care how I was doing either did you?

Have any of you reading this ever tried to actually tell someone how you’re doing when they ask?  You’ll likely find they quickly exit the conversation, as they had little interest to begin with.  So I for one see no reason we can’t just say, “good morning” and “good morning”, and leave it at that.  I once worked in a building with a man who didn’t even do that.  He just nodded.  When I was trained, my coworkers told me “Oh he’s a nice man, he just isn’t much for small talk”.  For them, his morning head nod was awkward, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air.  Is there a more efficient way to acknowledge someone’s existence than with a simple head nod?  Working with him was far more pleasant than working with most people, who mean well, but really just wear my patience with superficial small talk.

Interesting Links for further thought:

Interesting article on small talk as it relates to happiness

As annoying as is small talk, this article makes a case for why it is important

An amusing blog post by someone who fears succumbing to work place small talk


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