Please Stop Talking about Work for 10 Minutes
Most of my conversations are agenda driven.
I’ve had conversations, in recent days, with leaders scattered around the world. And when I say conversations, I mean conversations WITHOUT an agenda.
Big problems make small talk seem irrelevant.
Water-cooler-conversations don’t naturally happen when you go remote. You can’t read subtle indications of stress, joy, or sadness. You can’t say, “What’s up? You look a little down.”
Remember to care like you did when you were face-to-face, when you go remote.
You might think you don’t have time to just talk. But you had time when you were face-to-face.
I spent 20 minutes in a conversation with a high-level leader and we didn’t have an agenda. (Imagine that!)
I typically ask, “What would you like to get out of our conversation today?” It’s a coaching question that manages expectations and clarifies outcomes. Thankfully, he said that he just wanted to talk for a few minutes. And we did.
We talked about the team, family, getting take-out for dinner, and more. (More on take-out below.) You might think it was an unfocused waste of time. But a short conversation to reconnect in the midst of turbulence re-energizes us.
Become intentional about things that used to be spontaneous when you go remote.
Schedule 10-minute check-ins. No agenda. The topic might be:
- How are you doing?
- What’s up with the kids?
- Do you have enough toilet paper?
- What’s going on outside work?
- Tell me something good.
Tip: Have conversations on video as much as possible.
Small talk is big.
Short conversations that AREN’T about work energize people for work.
Back to take-out:
The server said his order was only the tenth of the day. He left a big tip. (That’s not the first time I’ve heard a big-tip story.)
Where do you need to become intentional about being spontaneous?
Home-run Dan! It’s the informal chit-chat that allows us to see into one anthers lives and establish relationships that are apart from the business-side agendas. Caring for people as people is an essential part of who we are. Thanks for your contributions to sanity and “peopleship” in this time of uncertainty. Stay safe.
Thanks Ken. “Peopleship” … love that! Be well.
Humbling for sure, when are connections are taken away we find new ways to connect! The technology today is on a cusp of amazement to communicate around the world, provided we have access to those source. So pick up the Telephone and “reach out and Touch someone” old cliche’. Where there is a will there is away! Stay save, help those in need, always be humble and kind, you may be in their shoes someday!
Ha! .. “reach out and touch someone” … wow!! How old are you. 🙂 Thanks Tim.
In many organisations, they don’t do this kind of interaction when everybody is one site and face to face. What chance when people are remote working?
It’s true, Mitch. Sad, but true. We shouldn’t expect cold organizations to suddenly become warm. However, perhaps mangers who read this can begin a shift.
This isn’t about organizations. It’s about us. The “organization” doesn’t have to be warm and caring for each and every one of us to take a few moments and connect with the people that we owe our livelihood to. Frank Blake said, “People know what you care about by what you talk about.” Talk to people about what’s important to them first.
Powerful comment, Chris. Worry less about influencing the entire organization and more on influencing the people around you.
Making personal connections with those which we interact (howsoever) is important because it (indirectly) helps us to remember our (personal) purposes to our (mutual) commitments (and thus re-energizes us).
I’ve never been much for (normal and meaningless) small talk, but I’ve learned that it’s easy to pick up a detail in whatever context that is interesting to explore … and I always learn something; it keeps me curious, which helps to stay connected, and onward we go, still caring all the way (as you say).
Thanks for the timely perspective, Dan.
Thanks Rurbane. I’m with you. I’ve had to learn to engage in banter. For me that means giving words to kindness that’s in my heart. (Things I often leave too unspoken.)
Dan – always a great perspective. I was thinking how the current dynamic is impacting extroverts whereas introverts are coping quite well? It is an assumption but another thought about how people may be dealing with restraints and constraints.
Good morning, Dan! I have a virtual team meeting today just so we can find out how we are all doing with the new telework. I just modified the agenda to include the ideas you have in this article. Thanks for posting this today – very timely!
Thanks Lisa, and best wishes with your team.
Good Evening Dan,
Without the human interaction that we commonly have had in the past it can be difficult to lessen the stresses associated with work. The mere fact of being able to talk to someone can pay large dividends in the form of productivity. Personally, when I find myself fed up with work or simply just looking for motivation, I like to talk to people and clear my mind. It allows me to refocus and let any lack of creativity escape. However, I find there is a fine line of friendly conversation to get your mind in the right place and blatantly ignoring your responsibilities. There have been quite a few times where people have requested video conferences and during the conference were able to ask questions based off how I appeared on camera (i.e. stressed, happy etc.). It’s the same concept about writing your message, dependent on how your phrase it can come off as rude or dull but saying the exact same message in person can make the message be portrayed in a different light. Now more than ever, people crave human interaction and putting their feelings out in the open about the uncertain situation we all find ourselves in. Too much talk about stress provoking topics that arise from work is not a good thing; being able to find that release and maintain level-headed presence is a great tool for navigating into a form of normalcy.
Great post, Dan! This is one of the things I missed when I retired, and one of the reasons I got a part time dishwashing job. Of course, now the bakery where I sometimes work is closed to in-store dining, and things are pretty grim there. But this too shall pass.
Thanks Glen. I’ve heard others who retired mention how they missed the interaction. I even heard an alcoholic talk about how he missed the camaraderie of the bar. We are wired to connect. Be well my friend.
Thank you Dan for your posts. They are a highlight of my day. Yesterday’s daily checkin was a little work but more light heartedness than tasks.
Will be having a trivia contest today to try to increase participation. (Some folks just stay on mute) Also… Started one at home and recommended to my team to keep a thankful list.
Good thought! Small talk shows big interest. Years ago a friend of mine took me to task, “You need to learn to make small talk.” It seemed unbearable. He was right then and you are right too.
Question, how did the last sentence about the “server and the tip” tie into your thought? 🙂 Maybe it wS small talk and I missed it.
So true! Also helps uncover critical things in the life of co-workers that impact everyone.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy my daily dose of “The Leadership Freak”…..especially now. Thank you for continuing to post real and relevant info with your ever present humor. Now more than ever it is very much appreciated.
It may be time for some of those “If I only had time to” projects. Remind folks of that great idea they had that was backburnered because of other priorities. Encourage them to set aside time to work on it, especially now that they are able to focus on it without interruption. Ask them to flesh out a formal proposal about that idea over the next week, especially if they can come up with creative ways to have others be involved.
You have hit the bull’s eye, the right way!
In most cases, a relationship between boss & employee is official and work-based. Bosses normally remain reserved and always prefer to work in isolation. A deliberate line of fear along with safe distancing is created to get the forceful respect based on a hierarchy level. A wrong notion of getting increased productivity with strict discipline kills the work culture of harmony and care.
Bosses should be much more natural in their behaviour and need not be serious all the time. 10-minutes talk on unofficial matter with any employee in a day can go a long way to earn good respect and win the integrity & loyalty for a longer time. It has to be natural and by way of a personality trait to mix up with employees to learn and encourage other good aspects. I remember in my first job with a German MNC, my HOD, Finance Controller with a terror image, coming out of his cabin everyday for 10 minutes at unscheduled time and taking a round of the department by way of a habit. He would go to one or two tables and talk to the staff in a casual manner giving good encouragement. He had stopped once at my table and enquired about progress on my doctoral studies with inspiration to work hard. Similarly, I came across yet an another boss with highly good professional image and reserved nature who was least bothered about anyone’s personal or family life as Marketing Head. Here, the process of winning the boss’s heart was reverse. I had to talk to him straight and differently with politeness to check on my colleague’s health who suffered due to his firing for the unconvincing delay. He subsequently became quite friendly with me and showed good empathy towards the staff.
You need to be really lucky to have a good boss who is genuinely interested in you and your personal growth.
Good afternoon Dan. This post stuck out to me particularly because it flows well with the last one of your posts I read and reflected on concerning always stressing and thinking about work. However, here there is also an element of leadership added in as well. The message you define here is all too real, no one like talking about work, especially extensively, while at work. If anything, the subject is already draining but creating stress when already immersed in it sounds like a one-way ticket to draining any and all productivity for the day. Too many times have I had a conversation that has to have some work-related endpoint, agenda, or goal. It creates a rift between me and my coworkers sometimes, as if they are either not interested in talking about anything else or simply do not think they should. Sometimes being too impersonal and bland can take its toll on a healthy relationship with coworkers which is why your guidance here to not have an agenda with every conversation is so important.
After all, you see, or talk, to your peers/coworkers almost every day and to dread that interaction means you are doomed to a toxic work environment. Being brief but polite and inquisitive is so refreshing and really can reenergize one when they go back to working. For many, including myself, breaking for a couple minutes to catch up with a friend or coworker is a reset button for me, almost like taking a walk or stretch, and people need that break during long days. I get that there will always be bad coworkers and favorites, but making sure you and your peers do not base your whole entire relationship off work-based subjects is essential if you want a refreshing atmosphere at your job. These days I try to separate my life from my work anytime I can just so I kind of enjoy coming back to work, and small talk is a perfect example of a good time for it.
Thanks for this post Dan.
It seems to me that sometimes spontaneity is truly one of the hardest things for us to have when we are working, especially remotely. I have noticed this in my clinical work. The telemedicine visits that I have had with patients have been lacking the small talk because both parties want to get down to business. It has made the work days more tense since we are working through new technology in a high-pressure time where a cold can be the beginning of a life-threatening illness! Your recommendation about scheduling 10-minute check-ins strikes me as both easy to apply and effective. In fact, after reading your post today, I experimented with use of the technique. I met with my medical assistant and asked her how she is doing and what’s up with her kids. As it turns out, her son is failing his e-learning high school classes and she hasn’t wanted anyone to know. This has been a drain on her emotionally. She said that she really appreciated having someone ask her about herself. I felt energized because it felt good to help her talk things out. I watched through the rest of the morning and her energy level was obviously increased as she was happier and performing at a higher level. Based on this experiment I would say that you are really onto something. Apparently small talk is, in fact, big.
Having water-cooler conversations over Zoom just does not feel organic to me. In my experience, they feel awkward and forced. However, I understand the importance of having time to reconnect with my coworkers and try to remind myself to make time for small talk. I am hoping that eventually remote conversations will start to feel more comfortable with practice.
I agree that short conversations that are not about work energize people. It also brings unity to the team and builds trust. I have experienced this particularly with one of my coworkers that is elderly and lives alone with no close relatives nearby. Coming to work was his only opportunity for social interaction. My other team members and myself have made it a priority to make time to ask about his days to help fill that void for him.
My boss has always been great at making time to check in on our personal lives and making time for small talk. She has continued that during the pandemic as well and it has kept our team and our communication strong. We start off our weekly lab meetings and individual meetings with her catching up briefly before we get down to business. Those quick check-ins really boost morale and give us time to catch up. She has definitely made time to care just like she did when we were face-to-face.