Transforming Chit Chat into Productivity
Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup (2001 to 2011) knows how to stay on task; all successful leaders do.
He’s setting up his office in Philadelphia after retiring from Campbell’s on July 31. When he picked up the phone, he was unpacking boxes.
I asked him what was happening in his life. Doug has a steady tone and demeanor, something most leaders of large organizations possess. He told me about his desire and opportunity to give back to the leadership community.
I’d made a decision not to get “serious” with Doug until he brought up his book or some other leadership topic. A few minutes into our call he ask, “How can I help.” His question wasn’t abrupt. But it focused us on task.
Leaders skillfully move conversations from casual chit chat to productive exchanges. It would have been normal for Doug to let me to lead the conversation but I held back, so Doug gently stepped up.
Leaders seldom wait. Leaders take initiative.
Chit chat expresses interest in others and builds a connection but it doesn’t build organizations.
You need clear objectives to turn casual conversations into productive exchanges. Doug’s book, TouchPoints, explains how.
It may seem harsh or cold for me to put-down office chit chat. It may seem manipulative.
It’s nearly impossible, however, to engage in extended chit chat with a leader. They don’t talk about the weather unless it’s impacting the organization. They’re focused on bigger issues.
You can always spot the leaders in the room; they’re consumed with going somewhere.
When Doug asked, “How can I help?” I responded, “Let’s talk office politics.” Come back Friday for his response.
Reader’s note: I’m so far behind on some recent book giveaways that I’m not planning one this time.
How do you move casual interactions to productive exchanges?
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It’s my experience that in less than 5 minutes with the right questions and good listening a “chit chat” can go deep. From “how’s it going?” to “tell me more…” people are wanting more from conversations, they want influence. So if I position myself to give more there is always a significant exchange! I love how Mr. Conant asks directly “What can I do for you?” Sometimes you just gotta come right out and ask: “How can I give to you” Which reminds me that leadership is more about serving and giving. Thx again Dan
Marshall McLuhan (“medium is the message” & predicted “the global village”-web in ’64) The message reflects “the change of scale or pace or pattern.” We may tend to miss that, getting wrapped up in surface messages/issues.
One of the leader’s roles is to ‘see’ those changes and with connections, help others see how to incorporate them into the organizational perspective. At the same time, Kotter’s sense of urgency needs to be an underpinning for the organization to not just exist, but thrive. And, of course, there is the inherent resistance to change we all experience.
How to weave the above (and other key points) in from casual conversation to productive exchange is an art that requires multiple interwoven connections; some work based, some non-work based, some interactionally based, and all, trust based. All take time, consistency and require a leader to really ‘know’ the person and be vulnerable at the same time.
‘How can I help’ opens doors and sets tones of trust, engagement, and perhaps a standard of reciprocal support or, at minimum, reciprocal listening. When in those exchanges of listening, then the leader can frame the passion, the vision, and the urgency of managing change.
“Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.” -McLuhan
I have a peer who loves the chit-chat; he says it’s relationship-building. I agree that it does not build the organization. I would add that the team will look at what you model and then push the envelope. I have a reputation in the company for being all business, so I’m actually trying to add some chit-chat. A few minutes goes a long way with me.
It’s worth noting that the HR pros tell us that our younger employees need social outlets as part of the work environment. I suspect the balance will tilt in favor of more chatting.
chat with intention…and positive regard
I agree that leaders do not wait, instead they initiate. I appreciate your skill that when offered, you wished to discuss upon office politics. It is so specific that you can discuss this topic across industries and countries. I strongly believe that we should start casual interactions into productive exchange by focussing current issues and challenges. It could be national or international issues. Usually, I discuss universal and common issues like why people cheat, whey people lie, why people play politics blob…… I focus more on why part. What could the reason people fear etc? This approach opens a very wide perspective to discuss because everyone has his own perception, suggestions and opinions. I believe, human nature is so complex that the more you study, more you find interesting and more you will confuse. I am always curious to know the dark side of people motivation and trust. I use to ponder why people wear masks to get position, power and status. One of the reasons is incompetency and fear of being exposed. Incompetent people create space by putting layers of masks on their face, but the fact is that they cheat and deceive themselves. Ultimately people come to know their real faces.
“God is sovereign. Let’s find out why he brought you hear. Is there something i can help you with?”
A superb observation what true leaders are really up to! They come to the point which is of the organization interest.
2 excellent points to take home by way of learning.’Leaders skillfully move conversations from casual chit chat to productive exchanges’ and ‘Chit chat expresses interest in others and builds a connection but it doesn’t build organizations’.
I shall prefer to get some gist of Doug’s book ‘TouchPoints’.
You have bounced back from a depressive mood while checking on intervention giving the example of PLC to a masterpiece write-up and initiative in getting the feedback on office politics from Doug. We shall wait for your next post to learn more.
This has actually happened to me once r twice when interacting with older people meaning guys already in the higher positions. I start it all with a chit chat and eventually end up to something with a base’. I get to learn a lot which eventually I’m going to use when i maybe get a job. could you term it as a social networking strategy?