What makes an interesting colleague?

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Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton - interesting work colleagues

When you did your work experience, did you find yourself standing awkwardly in the staff canteen, wondering what to say to your new colleagues?

We've already looked at the important qualities or "soft skills" you need for the workplace. But whether you’re going to be a nurse, a firefighter or a teacher, there’s more to getting on with your work colleagues than soft skills. In a full-time job, you’ll be spending 35-40 hours a week with your co-workers. You need to have something to talk about.

What’s more, good employers look for well-rounded people with interests outside work because they want the office to be a fun, vibrant place with a good social life. If you want to impress in interview, show the panel your personality.

Know film and TV

The latest cinema releases and TV trends are a big part of the office culture. A recent poll suggested 42% pretend to have seen a TV show just to give them something to talk about! Here are some TV and cinema staples to help you become the office film buff:

  • Breaking Bad: The only place we could start – more than one in seven people pretend to have seen Breaking Bad to keep the conversation going.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Everyone’s seen Star Wars and Alien, but how about setting it in context for your colleagues? This film started the special effects revolution back in 1969, has some great music – and a scary talking computer called Hal (and no, they couldn't just turn him off and on again).
  • Citizen Kane: It might be black and white, but most critics agree it’s the best film ever made – and every office expert needs to know the classics. It has influenced virtually every decent filmmaker since its release in 1941, so it’s always relevant to the latest releases.

News and current affairs

“I thought this article was about how to be an interesting work colleague,” we hear you say.

Strange as it may seem, the news is a popular topic of conversation in the workplace. OK, for some people, news might mean who won last night’s Strictly, or who got bumped off on EastEnders. But big debates like whether Britain should leave the EU, or who should win the next general election, form a big part of the office conversation.

You don’t have to become an avid reader of the Financial Times – but keeping up-to-date with what’s going can really help you join in the chat. It's worth knowing that these conversations can sometimes get a bit heated – we recommend steering well clear if this happens.

Many areas of work are affected by events in the news. For instance, charities have recently been accused of using bad fundraising tactics, and this is something people in the industry need to be aware of when they’re talking to the public. If you end up working in an area where current events might have an impact, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the news. And by being proactive, you’ll show your boss that you care.

We also suggest you keep on top of current affairs if you end up working in the media. Could be important…

Find a hobby

What do you do when you’ve finished school? Do you just go home and flop down on the sofa? When you’re at work, a boring personal life doesn’t give you much to talk about with your colleagues – and having something to look forward to in the evening can help keep you motivated during the day.

You don’t have to be a serpent-wrangler to start a conversation. Maybe you just enjoy football practice on a Wednesday night, or take French lessons at the weekend. If skydiving or bungee jumping is your thing, then all the better. Whatever it may be, you’ll find the conversation flows that little bit more easily when you’re making that cup of tea in the canteen.

Here are some things you could take up:

  • Do you play an instrument? Join a band (or start one).
  • Always doodling in maths? Take an art class.
  • Mind wanderer? Take up creative writing.
  • Want to communicate in secret? Take up sign language.
  • Enjoy doing the laundry? Take up extreme ironing.

(OK, that last one was a joke. Although…)

Books

What’s your favourite book? Hmm… we can definitely imagine an interview panel posing that one.

Prove you’re not just into Breaking Bad and skydiving by talking about the books you read. Not everybody enjoys reading or has the time to do it (or wants to know that you get through six books a night for that matter). But if it’s a genuine passion, you’re bound to find colleagues who share it with you, and you certainly shouldn’t be shy about it.

Reading can improve concentration, help you empathise, and teach you a lot – all useful skills in the workplace. And we’re pretty sure your employer will be impressed if you can talk knowledgeably about your favourite books in interview.

Here are two really useful books that make for interesting decision and could help you in your job.

Freakonomics

Stephen Dubner & Steven Levitt

Had enough of statistics? Well, Freakonomics might just make you fall in love with it. It uses fun, real-world examples to show why looking at the information can make all the difference. During the 1980s and 1990s, crime in America rose dramatically. Then suddenly it fell. Of course, all the politicians said it was because they’d made policing better. In fact, the evidence showed that crime had fallen because abortion had been legalised 20 years before, and fewer people were born into the conditions that force people into crime.

This book shows powerfully that all is not as it seems, and that you should always look at the facts before making judgements − so it’s useful in virtually any job where you have to make decisions.

Influence: The Power of Persuasion

Robert Cialdini

A great read if you’re considering a career in marketing, and need to persuade people to buy your thing and not your competitor’s thing. It’s all about how you can use the way people think to change the way they behave. For instance, did you know that if you go into a crowded place and stare at the sky, everyone else will start doing the same thing? You can apply clever techniques like this to advertising campaigns.

So, four ways you can be an interesting work colleague and impress your employer as well: know film and TV, keep informed about the news, have hobbies to talk about, and always have a book on the go.

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Image credits

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yeltsin_and_clinton_laughing.jpg

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