A few days ago, a panel of women leaders gathered for The Commonwealth Institute South Florida luncheon. During a panel discussion, one of the women leaders , Gillian Thomas, spoke about how she came from the U.K. where meetings are run differently than in the U.S. Mostly, they are more efficient, she said, because they are all business. When she arrived in the U.S., she realized that chit chat is part of most business meetings. "I've had to learn to respect that," she said.
Yet, there is a movement underway to shorten business meetings and eliminate chit chat.
Not long ago, you may recall I wrote about a business owner who does most of his interaction by email. He considers phone calls and in person meetings a huge waste of time, mostly because he abhors chit chat. He calls small talk: "the biggest time waster known to man."
And, plenty of productivity gurus will tell you that chit chat wreaks havoc on our work life balance because it makes meetings and phone calls longer and distracts us from getting work done.
Still, I'm a big proponent of chit chat. To me, it's what makes the person sitting next to you more human. From a business perspective chit chat helps you find common ground with a client or co-worker. Getting to know someone on a more personal level makes them more likely to want to work with you. It makes them see you as a whole person and often it makes them respect your personal life that much more.
Have you ever worked with someone who was all business? I have and while I was extremely efficient when I work with them or for them, I didn't feel motivated to give any extra effort.
Not long ago I heard a businesswoman tell her story about how she landed a seat on a prestigious all-male board of a major corporation. She had played hockey in college and was a huge fan of the local NHL team. The chairman of the board was a big hockey fan too. During the interview process, they had chit chatted about hockey. It disarmed the man and made him see this woman as someone who could fit in. The male candidates who interviewed for the board seat had avoided chit chat but the woman, who also had amazing credentials, stood out.
I've noticed that small talk can lead to a variety of positive outcomes, from a merely pleasant exchange to the signing of multimillion-dollar business deal. It's a way to connect and while it may seem like a time drain to some, likeability is a key factor in getting hired, promoted or engaged as a vendor. And what determines a large portion of your likeability? You guessed it: your ability to small talk.
At the same TCI luncheon last week, the panelists were asked about their leadership styles. Alex Villoch publisher of The Miami Herald, said her style is all about getting out of her office and chit chatting with staff. "When you stay in your office, people will come in and tell you want they think you want to hear," she said. By roaming around and talking to employees, Villoch says she picks up small tidbits that often lead to big ideas.
Some of us feel guilty about wasting time at work. I say, go ahead and build chit chat into your workday. Good leaders do it, good networkers do it, good team builders do it. Small talk matters. That's something to consider next time you feel annoyed by a simple "How's your day going?"