Rediscover the art of conversation at work in easy steps

Pulling your weight with the tea round might have unlikely benefits

Making an effort to build new relationships pays big dividends.

How often do you walk into your office and it’s quiet enough to hear a pin drop? Are your colleagues constantly plugged into their headphones, heads down, and cracking through their to-do lists? Do you even know their names?
While we all need space to think and do, there are huge benefits in putting time aside to network with colleagues to create strong, supportive work “communities”. Not only does this create a better environment in which to work, but you will be surprised how much it can benefit your business and your career too.
Whether you are a small startup in your first office or working at a multinational, there are simple steps you can take to rediscover the art and power of conversation in the workplace.

DITCH THE EMAIL

How often do you receive an email from someone across the room when a chat would have been quicker and more productive? Or have you been the victim of someone interpreting something you wrote in an email in the wrong way? If a quick chat will suffice, head over or pick up the phone. It’s better to know the person is taking in the information in the right way, and you don’t know what else you might discuss or learn.

LISTEN CAREFULLY

In today’s digital, always-on world, it can be hard to give people your undivided attention. I bet you can’t honestly think of the last time you did nothing but listen to someone – not thinking about how to answer them, not checking your phone, not worrying about lunch, just listening. Being present will prompt massive jumps in productivity, for you and your team. Be aware of what’s going on around you, and keep an ear open for opportunities to help colleagues as well as yourself. This might mean taking time out from listening to Jay-Z and instead making a conscious effort to bump into Mary from accounts in the kitchen.

TEA ANYONE?

A cuppa could be a useful way to introduce yourself to new people in the office. Pull your weight with the tea round and look beyond your direct peer group. Grabbing a hot drink away from your desk with a colleague can often foster more creativity than a formal meeting, and makes it easier to explore new opportunities.

IDENTIFY “FACILITATORS”

It is important to look outside your immediate circle of peers at work for opportunities to connect and collaborate, but it can sometimes be hard to make the right introductions. Spend time working out who can make this happen, using tools such as LinkedIn or your company intranet to identify these “facilitators”.

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

Make sure you chat about non work-related topics and take an interest in colleagues’ lives when you grab lunch or a drink. Not only will this help build better relationships, but you’re more likely to find hidden opportunities – whether an untapped client lead or an internal job opening – when people around you are relaxed.
Never has the maxim “it’s who you know, not what you know” been so important in business. While firms of all sizes could do more to support and leverage a sense of community in the workplace, a shift in mindset and a few simple steps will go a long way.
James Layfield is chief executive at Central Working, a collection of member clubs in the UK, which offer entrepreneurs and SMEs the support, infrastructure and tools to succeed.

A beautiful script

Free
It’s slightly quirky, but could provide a nice alternative to digital note-making. Use Your Handwriting allows you to write notes, lists and messages on your iPhone or iPad with your finger. You can even use it to simulate a fountain pen – for beautiful, as well as practical, notes. The app combines this with the ability to create multi-level lists and alarms, and it allows across-device synchronisation. You can brainstorm, and use the whiteboard function as an alternative to post-it notes.

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