In the company I'm in we always go to eat a meal together at a restaurant very near to our office. This has been so for a very long time I have been told. I'm pretty new. I've worked there for about a month now.

I really like the idea of socializing and spending some "free time" together as it enhances the work climate, which is btw very good. Everyone seems to like each other and everyone, even the bosses (we are a small company with 9 people, including 3 bosses) are very approachable and down to earth.

Except on the days when some key figures join the meal, or there are a lot of people (almost everyone from the company) the table is very very quiet. No one seems to have topics to talk about with each other and sometimes there are even meals where almost no words are spoken. That doesn't happen all too often but sometimes it does and it's really uncomfortable for me.

I don't know how to change that. I would say that I'm really not too bad with small talk, sometimes I talk for an hour straight without even having met them before, like when getting a ride between my hometown and where I live with people I don't know. But during the meal, I sometimes get the impression that they are so stuck in this being quiet and not talking much that it seems as though they don't WANT to talk and just look at their phones.

I'm the new apprentice, so I can't talk too much about technical stuff (programming) and sometimes politics or sports comes up, but after 2 minutes it's quiet again.

How could I approach this, or help the table culture so we have flowing talks?

  • 4
    Where are you living currently? The answers can change greatly according to your origin. – LinuxBlanket Oct 16 '17 at 15:24
  • Did some of your colleagues spend the whole morning making phone calls? If this is the case, they could enjoy the silence... Do you know them? What are they interested in? Music, movies, shows, literature, food? – peufeu Oct 16 '17 at 16:42
  • Comments deleted. Please use answers for answers; don't just write them up as comments. – HDE 226868 Oct 18 '17 at 1:54
up vote 15 down vote accepted

It sounds like the people in the office are generally friendly with one another, but have difficulty navigating an environment where they are more or less speaking to an audience. Beginning a conversation at a quiet table can be nerve-wracking because the first words spoken will be the focus of the entire group's attention.

My preferred tactic in this type of situation is to bite the bullet and be the first to speak, BUT I try to make it easier on myself by sitting next to a coworker whom I know I share some prefabricated topic of discussion. The easiest examples would be a person that I know shares a hobby with me. It doesn't matter if the rest of the table can join in on this conversation, that isn't the point.

The point is to split the attention of the group, and make it easier for others to begin their own conversations with less pressure. This can be awkward, and isn't foolproof, but if you can keep your small conversation going until the social dam breaks, the momentum should carry the group through the rest of the meal.

  • 1
    Good first answer. Welcome to the site :) – Erik Oct 16 '17 at 17:38
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    Thanks! I think this is about as close to 'engaging in social media' as I'm going to get. Happy to be here! – Nilerian Oct 16 '17 at 17:39

As the newcomer, you have a tool available that the others don't have as readily: instead of sharing knowledge (which you said you don't have yet), you can ask questions -- questions about the project, questions about company history, questions about that weird thing that's part of the culture ("how did a rubber chicken become the 'you broke the build' badge of shame?"), and so on. Questions invite other people to speak about things they're (presumably) comfortable with; you'll probably have more success this way than bringing up random hobbies, sports, or movies and hoping someone shares your interest.

Don't go overboard, though; you don't want to be seen as a pest or a help vampire. If your question results in a terse answer followed by more silence, I wouldn't try again during that meal. But if anybody engages with your question, the chances are decent that more conversation will ensue.

While my (local) coworkers aren't as silent as it sounds like yours are, our group of about a dozen mostly eats lunch together, and when I was the newcomer I used some of that time to ask about stuff like this, and I found that my coworkers were happy to answer my questions and, from there, share other tidbits and stories.

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