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Q.
The co-worker who sits next to me won't make small talk or even say "Hi." What can I do to improve our relationship?

A.
In all personal interactions, there is something called "relationship tension," a term referring to the barriers that prevent people from starting conversations and engaging with others. Often, this tension is manageable with a simple approach conducted over time.

To open the lines of communication, try asking an open question that cannot be answered with a brief "yes" or "no." You might try something along the lines of "What did you do this weekend?" or "What did you think about the Oscars last night?" Or ask about any other activity/entertainment the person might have engaged in.

Usually, you can warm up a quiet or reserved person by prompting him or her with regular queries such as those above. However, if your co-worker is the type who sees your attempts at small talk as nothing more than unwelcome interruptions, try an alternate approach.

One way to break the ice is to make casual conversation while you are settling in at the start of work or at other moments of the day when you're getting up to take a break. At those times, you might say "I'm going for some coffee. Would you like to go?" or "Can I bring you back a cup?" In the end, these overtures may not turn your co-worker into the office chatterbox, but they will let him or her know that a little speech can sometimes be preferable to a long silence. E



Dan Lumpkin, organizational psychologist, is the president of management-consulting company Lumpkin & Associates in Fairhope, AL. Need answers? Email your career-related questions to askdan@exhibitormagazine.com.
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