I use a whiteboard to start conversations for me.  Yes, it's the normal 2ft x 3ft variety, and no, it doesn't have any special abilities.  What makes it special is the conversation topics people write on it and the interactions I strike up based on it.  A whiteboard is a fabulous conversation starter.

A Lousy Conversation Starter Yields Lousy Conversations

I have a habit of asking coworkers, "How is your day going?"  I mean the question in earnest but inevitably I get the same responses.

Pretty good.
It's going.

I ask a generic question and I receive generic responses.  Although I genuinely want to know how the person's day is going, that doesn't come through in my conversation starter.  The responses give me nothing to work with and no inspiration for follow-up discussion.

I want to walk away from a conversation feeling more connected to the other person, and my lousy question doesn't cut it.

Enter the Whiteboard

Our break room has a whiteboard sitting out in plain view, begging to be written on.  Every week a new question gets posed.  The questions are sometimes silly and sometimes more meaty, but either way they encourage conversation and foster camaraderie.  Throughout the week, people respond to the original question or add witty commentary on earlier responses.

This is a great conversation starter for introverts like me.  There's always a discussion topic at the ready.  I can reference the board and ask a person to describe her own experience with the best burger in town or what board game she liked playing as a child or what book she's read that really impacted her.

The whiteboard lets me dive into specific topics without springing it upon someone.  It's similar to when a person is wearing a unique clothing item or is traveling with a dog or baby.  There's a ready excuse to start a conversation.

So thank you, O Whiteboard, for letting me skip the small talk.