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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Benefits of Impromptu Chitchats

Is the water cooler conversation dead? Maybe so. With many companies today stretched so thin, leaders are expecting people to take on more, expanding their responsibilities and increasing productivity goals. Add to the mix the growing trend of working virtually, office chitchat is on the decline.

However, impromptu chitchat can have real value. As MIT Professor Sandy Pentland reports on the results of a new study proving the benefits, he says: “Individuals who talked to more co-workers were getting through calls faster, felt less stressed and had the same approval ratings as their peers. Informally talking out problems and solutions, it seemed, produced better results than following the employee handbook or obeying managers’ e-mailed instructions.”

Office chitchat is often perceived as unproductive down time. But, in reality, it can lead to innovative problem solving, new ideas, stress relief and collaborative efforts that actually increase both productivity and performance. And it can be fun, too!

Sure, when chitchat is excessive it can lead to frustrations and lowered performance. So, help employees to learn the skills to move on from unproductive conversations. It’s ok to tell someone you’re “on a deadline” or “have a call to join”. However, managers should encourage conversations among team members - and not just email exchanges. An office devoid of personal interaction can create an atmosphere that’s unpleasant, even oppressive. It’s human nature to interact. The relationships that are built out of sharing can go a long way toward building a cohesive team. And, it’s well known that relationships with co-workers are the main reason employee stay with their current employers.

Encourage employees to reach out to one another to help solve problems and create solutions, even if they work virtually. Use technology, such as the telephone, Instant Messaging, wikis and other tools to help them keep engaged with each other. And as the leader, it's important to role model this behavior.

When was the last time you stopped to chitchat?

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