Casual Conversation in the Workplace…Something to Talk About

What’s your take on casual conversation in the workplace?  Do you encourage it?  Do you participate in it? Or, do you choose not to involve yourself in idle talk?

Indeed, some might think that spending time talking to people about this and that, serves little purpose but to waste time.  I think that having conversations, even of the most casual kind with the people you work with is an imperative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s Why:

  • As a leader, when you engage in conversation with employees, you are giving yourself, and your company, an opportunity to know them beyond what was written on their resumes when they were first hired.

If you think it is not important to know people as long as they do the job, then you could be missing something.  After all, as a leader it is your job to know what you have to work with in terms of resources.  And that goes for the human kind as well.  Having casual conversations with the people you lead allows you the opportunity to know more about their talents, experiences and skills and helps you to see not only their present capability but possibly their future potential too.

  • Casual conversations among your followers can serve as the glue that brings people together and builds strength in team or company relationships

If you discourage people on your team or in your department from engaging in casual conversations in the hope that they will spend more time doing their jobs, you could also be missing something.  Encouraging the development of relationships among people who work together on a daily basis can build strength and a sense of common purpose.  In my experience, people who know each other on a more personal level are more likely to want to support each other when it comes to getting the work done, especially when the going gets tough.

  • Leaders who engage in everyday conversations with those they lead invariably reveal something of themselves that takes them from the realm of “boss” to the more level place of “boss who is also human”

If you want your followers to participate with you in achieving your goals and to make contributions that go beyond simply doing what they are told, you must put something of yourself into the mix. People will only share information about themselves with you easily, if you show that you are willing to meet them halfway and share something of yourself too.

Having said all that, I think it important to say too, that casual conversations can go from being constructive and helpful to divisive and destructive if you’re not careful. And, that’s when they get in the way of building healthy productive relationships and workplaces.

So, to avoid this, there are a few things to consider when it comes to engaging in casual conversations at work:

  • Keep your conversations friendly and professional

This means that, generally, people do not need, or even want, to know all of the intimate details of your life.  Seek balanced two-way conversations that give each participant the opportunity to take part. Providing too much information (as in, Whoa…too much information!) could be embarrassing and the very thing that will have people avoiding you rather than seeking you out.

  • Know when the conversation is over and move on

Conversations that outlive their usefulness can, and do, get in the way of getting the work done.  Spending inordinate amounts of time leaning on doorframes or hanging over cubicle walls talking about whatever comes to mind is not the idea at all.  Keep your exchanges short yet friendly and I suspect that everyone will appreciate it.

  • Resist, at all costs, any temptation to participate in idle gossip or rumour mongering.

When rumour, innuendo and other negative lines of conversation are engaged in, bad feeling and damaged relationships are bound to follow.  As leader, it is important to model constructive and helpful conversations and to be clear that negative talk is not condoned.

If you want more information about conducting a useful casual conversation, here it is:

So, have I missed something?  What are your views on casual chat in the workplace?  What is your experience with it?

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9 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership Style, Leading Teams

9 responses to “Casual Conversation in the Workplace…Something to Talk About

  1. Gwyn, I couldn’t agree more: Casual conversations which enhance workplace friendships are crucial, and when I visit workplaces I am often encouraging business owners to create comfortable places they can happen. Amazing to me the number of workplaces where staff can’t even sit down other than in a back alley or parking lot.

    This is also very timely for me, for I currently have 30 people in a habit-building challenge with instilling The Daily 5 Minutes as their daily habit. The D5M is a practice we introduce as a “new kind of conversation” which fits in between what you refer to here as “casual conversations” and all the other communication conventions in most workplaces (like meetings), and it is designed to enhance conversational comfort. I’ll have to send everyone over to read your article.

    No surprise coming from me I guess, writing a blog named Talking Story, that I do not think enough conversations happen in our workplaces – not good ones. People will tell me, “but we talk to each other all the time” and my response is always, “No you don’t. I guarantee you, you don’t. Granted, most of us talk TO others, AT others, and even FOR others all the time, but we don’t talk WITH others enough. When those times come up where we know we really need to have a heart to heart with another person, we stutter, stammer, stall, or skip the conversation altogether, hoping it will just go away. And surprise, surprise, it doesn’t.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Rosa, I love it when someone adds depth and strength to something I have written. Thank you. I really like the idea of the Daily 5 Minutes and the emphasis you place on the importance of conversation WITH others.
      You are quite right, on reflection, so many of us talk TO, AT and FOR others but have trouble with the WITH.

      Thanks again. And, I welcome all readers so send everyone over by all means! 🙂

  2. Very nice commentary on the power of the conversation and connectivity between people in the workplace. This is important to bring departments into the outside-in mentality to form silos of collaboration. The amazing aspect is that it engages the five senses.

    The wow and eureka moments happen at the strategist times during a casual conversation when the 6th sense (creative imagination) arrives on the scene. Organizations become effective and an influencer when the 4 Es (encounter, equip, empower, & execute) are in place for casual conversation, the bonus is that you can gain strategic stretching that often does not take place in a traditional meeting.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Steve,

      Yes, I agree, and think there is lots of opportunity to discover something of value for the organization simply through having casual conversations with colleagues. I like your reference to “strategic stretching” and the arrival of the 6th sense during casual conversation.

      I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way but it makes me think that casual conversation can indeed create environments where unexpected and positive things can happen.

      Thanks for coming by!

  3. Big fan of Rosa Say’s Daily 5 Minutes and am taking part in her Ruzuku challenge right now as well and love this post.

    The part that most resonated was the “TMI!” portion. I want to talk with my co-workers and I am interested in their lives but there are some things that I just don’t think are any of my business.

    I try and be up front that I’m concerned about their well-being and health but don’t need to know their blood-pressure, cholesterol numbers, and just exactly what that lump looked like and no thank you I do NOT want to see it or the scar. *shudder* That’s mostly because I’m incredibly squeamish. I can’t even watch doctor shows with fake surgeries. I just can’t handle it. I’m sure Human Resources would point out there were confidentially issues but my main one is I get the heebie jeebies.

    Another huge part for me is attitude, sort of ties in with gossip. I think informal conversation helps identify and nip in the bud budding negativity, paranoia, fear, or just plain toxic chatter that can run around. If we don’t talk to our employees we won’t hear about it until it blows up. I find I hear about it much sooner when it’s easier to address if I talk to people at work instead of just gliding around like a swan atop the waters of the workplace all graceful and apparently unaware of what’s going on beneath me. (hated using that word there, but really liked the imagery!)

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Rich, Thanks for giving me a giggle. Loved your comments! I too am squeamish so I can relate to your feelings about engaging in talk about Lumps and scars. 🙂
      I think you also make a good point about becoming aware of negative conversation and dealing with it before it becomes so large it impacts the whole culture and environment of the organization. Becoming engaged with the people you work with through simple conversation can indeed ward off the “swan atop the waters” situation.

      Thanks for coming by!

  4. Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

    http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2009/11/04/11409-midweek-look-at-the-independent-business-blogs.aspx

    Wally Bock

  5. You always do such a great job Gwyn of capturing the essential principles of you are writing about to guide people in taking new action.

    As a leader casual conversation can also tell people you care about them, not just getting the work done. In my first job out of college I quickly got a reputation for being all business. Truth is I was. They were paying me to work not chat. Besides, it seemed to me like most of the idle conversation was of the gossip variety anyway and I had no interest in that.

    Yet at some point I realized not only was I missing out on creating essential and rewarding relationships, but I was also missing out on understanding what what people were really thinking and feeling. Fortunately I had an amazing boss who coached me in this. And in the process one thing I learned is that unless you can actually listen to and be with the negativity (without of course falling into the extremes of jumping on the bandwagon or being a polyanna) you have no access to transforming it. And if you can’t just “hang out” with people long enough to connect with them without an agenda on occasion they probably won’t trust you with the things that really matter to them.

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