Are you the type of worker who keeps your nose down and work ethic up, generally avoiding office chit chat and water-cooler talk? According to the Boston Globe article, “Office small talk is part of business, too,” engaging in occasional and appropriate small talk with coworkers can prove beneficial to your career.

First, people like working with nice people, so general, friendly conversation can help build rapport and relationships with others you’re in contact with on a daily or weekly basis. From a more strategic standpoint, office chit chat can help you determine who can help your career, and who could potentially hinder it.

Here’s how you can boost your ability to chit chat with anyone, while avoiding common communication mistakes that can backfire on your career.

Take a cue from salespeople. If you’re in sales or customer service, it’s a given that the ability to speak casually with clients and prospects is a key to success. How do they do it? It helps to have a sincere interest in other people. It’s more important to pay attention and to be a good listener.

Look for cues that the person actually wants to talk to you. Do they look busy or rushed? Are they facing you and engaging, or backing away? If someone doesn’t seem receptive to a conversation, or if it feels like the other person wants to wrap it up and return to work, let them off the hook and talk later.

Know the basic etiquette of work conversation. When it comes to talking with coworkers or customers, let common sense prevail. Avoid politics and religion, and anything remotely controversial. You never know where people stand on things, and it could come back to bite you. Also, avoid personal topics you wouldn’t want a third party to overhear or join.

Instead, stay up on current events about news, sports, entertainment, and especially issues in your area of business, and comment if the topic comes up. It’s fine to share your opinion, but keep personal or accusatory comments out of it, such as “I can’t believe you would support such a cause!” or, “What on earth makes you think that?”

Ask questions, and get to know what interests the people around you. A great way to engage someone is to ask their advice on something, such as recommending a Broadway play or place to go on vacation. Once you get to know people, have a few questions in mind ahead of time for when the opportunity comes up.

If another person approaches to join the conversation, include him or her as well in the conversation.

It’s important not to let the conversation go on too long, as it can easily be perceived by others as slacking and inappropriate. To end a conversation tactfully, say something like, “That was really interesting, we’ll have to talk again” or “I have a report I’ve got to get finished. Can we touch base later?”