Many of my colleagues are noticing something strange: There is a built-in preamble everyone is adding to their conversations. "How are you doing?", "You doing okay?", or a variation tags every business call, email or text. They often end with a "Take care." For decades, this was put in the soft skills department. Now, as we practice social distancing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it becomes an honest assessment-- perhaps the only assessment-- of how the other person is doing.
There is nothing groundbreaking or new about this, other than many of us beginning to notice it's increased importance now. In fact, Simon Sinek talked about the power of the "white space" years ago. Here's why it matters now more than ever.
Be present, especially when it is awkward.
On the 2016 program Impact Theory, Sinek talks about how business relationships aren't necessarily built on corporate retreats or hands-on meetings.
Rather, relationships are built in the white space while you and a colleague get to a meeting early and wait for it to start, or when you reach out to someone with just the intention of checking in. It's built when you're connecting with others when waiting for something else.
This in-between time is when you can get to know each other outside of the transactional space. In other words, neither of you are trying to get something out of the other person. The small talk inevitably becomes less formal and more personal.
At the moment, that may mean emailing or texting others, talking with others as the other Zoom call attendees arrive or simply adding thoughtful, empathetic curiosity to your interactions.
Why white space matters more than ever.
To paraphrase Adam Grant, Brene Brown and other empathetic thought leaders, we bring our whole selves to work-- not just the professional part. The mood, receptiveness and communication people bring to work is often the combination of things outside of the job.
This was always the case. However, the current health pandemic and the related challenges make it way more likely that your business customer, colleague or supervisor is being impacted by things beyond the scope of the job.
In short, you can't ignore the "small talk". In fact, navigating the small talk may help you do more effective business. Now, we all have to take five seconds to ask people how they are doing. It is something empathetic leaders have been doing all along.