Did you know that 50% of business communication is actually small talk? Small talk is a vital part of working with other people: finding out what they’re doing, what they’re having problems with, and what they think they should be doing differently. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s about getting to know your colleagues and business partners as people, not just as business machines.
Business is very largely based on trusting people, helping and being helped by people and persuading people to do things. How can you achieve any of those things if you don’t spend time getting to know each other?
When is this relationship-building supposed to happen? Outside of working hours? No, that’s not right if we accept that relationship building is real work. When we’re sitting at our computers or in our offices? No, that’s when we might need to avoid interruptions and stay focused. So, when, then? A lot of the best small talk happens accidentally: the classic situations are the queue for the photocopier, the coffee machine or the water cooler. But a much more systematic and effective way to build good relationships between people from different departments is to allow small talk to flourish in meetings.
Let’s get a few things straight about meetings: the whole point of bringing people together for meetings is to generate discussion, to resolve misunderstandings, and to find solutions to problems that people couldn’t find if they were working alone. If everything is carefully planned in advance, and the chair of the meeting sticks rigidly to the agenda, none of those things can take place. Of course, there’s a time when it’s appropriate for one person to talk and everyone else to listen and learn, but that’s a presentation, not a meeting.
If you’re serious about making your meetings more effective, you need to give the participants plenty of time to ask questions, take the conversation in new directions, say things which may or may not be relevant, and above all, get to know each other. Of course, you need to make sure things don’t get out of control, but that means finding a sensible balance between small talk and getting down to business.
A company which does not tolerate small talk may get things done more quickly, but that doesn’t mean it’ll do things the best way, making full use of the skills and ideas of its employees …and it may well find that it loses its best employees and its customers just as quickly.
Now, lets find the definition of some important words from the text!