Preparation: Small Talk Reading
Read the following texts about small talk at work. Then answer the questions below:
Small Talk Reading: Text 1
Let’s stop wasting time and get on with it!
Did you know you can download a clock from the internet to calculate the cost of your meetings? All you need to do is type in the number of attendees at the meeting and their average hourly wage and start the clock. As the seconds tick away and you see how much those seconds are costing your company, you’ll start to appreciate what a terrible waste of time –and money –most meetings are.
So what can you do? Firstly, make sure everyone arrives on time. No excuses.
If five people at a meeting are sitting around waiting for a sixth person to turn up, just think how much money you are throwing away.
Secondly, get most of the work done before the meeting. That means sending round detailed agendas, with clear instructions for all participants telling them what they need to do to prepare for the meeting. Again, accept no excuses if someone fails to prepare properly. That means the meeting itself can focus on problem-solving and decision-making rather than wasting time explaining the problem that needs to be solved or the decision that needs to be made.
Thirdly, stick to the agenda. Don’t let anyone hijack the meeting by chatting about something irrelevant. If they want to talk about those things, let them call their own meeting. Don’t let them take over yours.
Fourthly, set a time limit and stick to it. There’s nothing worse than a meeting that goes round and round in circles with no decisions ever being finalised. A time limit can be a great way to focus everyone’s minds on the purpose of the meeting and the need to achieve something concrete …and then to go back to work and start implementing the decisions.
Of course small talk has its place, but that place is not a meeting.
Small Talk Reading: Text 2
Small talk is the cement that holds businesses together. 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.