Casually speaking, this post is from 2010
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.
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.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?