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3 Essential Workplace Conversations You're Probably Not Having

What seems like idle chitchat can elevate your productivity--and your career.
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We all talk all day long. I know I do. 

What if said I could teach you to turn all that chatter into a productivity tool? Would you try it? 

The trick is to think of your office conversations not as idle filler you use to pass the time between meetings, but as tactics to advance your goals. Conversation is a nice social experience - but what I’m talking about is Conversation Leadership - taking all that talking and making it productive for you and for your company. 

And the big news is, anyone can do it and profit from it, from CEO to summer intern. 

Here’s how to use conversation to drive business success: 

1. Converse - Even if You Think You Can’t 

Far too many people talk themselves out of this profitable tactic before they’ve even tried it. Oh, I’m not a good conversationalist. I’m shy. I’m an introvert. I’m too busy. These are all excuses, and they keep you away from what could be a potentially powerful boost to your career. I used to consider myself shy. I got over that by getting a job as a bartender. Conversation was a job requirement. So if you think you’re not a natural conversationalist and that’s what keeping you quiet, put yourself in a position where talking to people will be expected. A bar is not your only option. Look for situations that will help you flex those conversation muscles. 

2. Converse Across Hierarchies 

Stop talking to your co-workers. At least stop talking to them exclusively. It’s great to talk to your colleagues and peers, but to attain Conversation Leadership status, you need to converse up and down the food chain. Talk to the lowly newcomer. Talk to senior managers. Remember that conversations can be in person, via email, or office-approved social media. You don’t need to buttonhole the boss in the hallway if that seems awkward, but you could send an email after a company speech with your thoughts. I hear from 1-800-Flowers.com employees all the time. I often use these emails as a start to a conversation between us. Virtual tools make an excellent Conversation Leadership platform. 

3. Converse for Intimacy, not for Efficiency 

Converse like you mean it.  If you’re in a hurry, you’ll be hard pressed to engage in Conversation Leadership. Speedy delivery is great for giving orders, delivering information, even quick check-ins. But Conversation Leadership is a way to really connect with people - hear what they are saying and think about it. Answer thoughtfully and be prepared to hear even more. This is something we don’t often do in our work interactions. We’re in such a hurry to give orders, to pitch our ideas, to move the ball forward that we are not really trying to create a moment of connection and understanding. Those who realize when it’s time to slow down and talk in a more intimate and unhurried way are engaged in Conversation Leadership. Those who say, “Just talk to me while I’m walking, checking my iPhone and thinking about my next meeting” are missing the point. 

Conversation Leadership - try it. It’s a productivity tool that works.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Mar 5, 2014

JIM MCCANN | Columnist | Founder

Jim McCann founded 1-800-FLOWERS.com and is a leading player in the gourmet food and gift baskets business. McCann steered the company into content and media by founding Celebrations.com, a social party-planning website. He is the author of Stop and Sell the Roses: Lessons From Business and Life and the audio book Talk Is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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