A little more conversation: Fewer meetings and better relationships at work

Rhodri Wyn Jones offers an alternative to meetings culture.

Meetings are addictive. We love going to meetings. We’re constantly arranging meetings and we can’t stop talking at meetings. We know that they disrupt our productivity, but we just can’t seem to get enough of them.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a time and a place for getting everyone in the same room, but too often we think that meetings are the only choice, and we miss the opportunity to build relationships at work.

So what’s the alternative?

It was almost 30 years ago that Bob Hoskins starred in BT’s ‘It’s Good to Talk’ advert, and his message seems more relevant in today’s workplace than ever before. It’s all too easy to be absent when we attend meetings, so how can we drop the out-dated get-together and choose real conversations at work?

How to make it happen

  • Change language to change culture

Replacing the word ‘meeting’ with ‘conversation’ is an easy way to start. You’ll find that people are far more receptive to having a chin wag than wanting to accept your meeting request so why block out your calendar?

  • One-to-one

Any more than two people in a conversation can change the nature of the interaction. Scheduling a series of conversations can seem like overkill, but it can be far more productive than going through a never-ending agenda with an unruly rabble.

  • Break free from email chains

Don’t be lazy and copy everyone into an email. If you don’t know who needs to be involved then why start with an email? Have trust that your conversations will filter information to the decision maker and get things moving.  

  • Walk and talk

New technology and remote working have revolutionised the way we work, although it can be a hindrance when people hide behind their laptops and pretend to tap-tap-tap away at their work. Be visible and count the steps when you get up for a conversation.

  • Think about your audience

Individual preferences mean that some people find it difficult to speak in meetings. Others model their opinions off what is said by superiors so you can often miss genuine feedback from people. One on one is most suited to get the best from people. 

Getting things started and making small talk can seem like a big effort, especially if you prefer to open formal meetings by taking refuge in an agenda. But breaking the ice and making yourself more visible can help you build relationships and open doors to new opportunities.

You’ll find that people are far more comfortable in sharing information if you prove that you’re a good listener, and you’ll be better informed of office activities.

Having a better understanding on what’s going on at home will also make you far more empathetic to how people are feeling and how you can help relieve pressure at work. Talking through issues where work overlaps with personal life is far more effective when having an honest cup of tea, as opposed to scrolling down an email chain.

Showing a genuine level of interest can make all the difference and help build long term relationships that will be mutually beneficial. 

We’re naturally social creatures, and you’ll find that most people prefer to avoid long meetings in preference to concise conversations. That isn’t to say that these take less time to arrange to begin with, but people feel far more energised and usually end up having more regular conversations – which can’t be a bad thing.

If your goal is to build better relationships at work, then conversations are for you. It’s good to talk. 


About the author

Rhodri Wyn Jones is organisational development manager at the National Assembly for Wales.


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