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Too Much Talk. Too Little Action

Mike Dickson

May 3, 2024

Too much talk at work kills productivity. This is one of the findings from a recent study at Currys, the UK retailer, where the main distraction to productivity seen by over a fifth of workers (23%) was talkative colleagues.

The general trend in hybrid working is that more people are starting to return to their workplaces, as well as still working from home. So, it's not surprising that they are keen to chat in person with co-workers rather than just looking at them on a screen. Nothing beats face-to-face.

But are these productive conversations, rather than just tittle-tattle? On balance they are probably not.

So, what can be done about this in positive ways - as opposed to bosses just telling their people to ‘get on with it’ and focus on the job in hand.

The answer lies in the culture of the organisation and its brand.

The descriptor that culture is about 'the way we do things around here' rather than just 'what we do' applies to conversations too. And, most importantly, focusing on the organisation’s BRAND and the values around it should be pivotal to those conversations.

In his excellent new book Supercommunicators, Charles Duhigg identifies three types of productive conversations. Here’s how they can become productive in a work context by using BRAND as a guide.

The first is having a clear focus on what a conversation is actually about. In this case, it needs each party to have a decision-making mindset. And those decisions should be based on how those conversations must have a positive impact on customers – either directly or indirectly. Customers buy brands, not just products and services. So, both customer and brand considerations must be at the heart of any workplace conversations.

The second type of conversation Charles Duhigg identified is about how we feel. And this requires an emotional mindset. Brands are about evoking emotions and this involves putting yourselves in the shoes of the customer. It’s about being empathetic to their needs and that can equally apply to conversations with co-workers. How will they feel as a result of a conversation – motivated and inspired to take action? Leaders of teams should take particular note of this.

The third conversation type is about who we are, which entails having a social mindset. A brand helps people in organisations understand why they do what they do, again in this context for the benefit of customers. The neuroscientist Matthew Liebermann wrote that our brains’ default mode plays a role in how we think ‘‘about other people, oneself and the relation to other people". And this involves how we listen to others, how we understand them, and what we say in return.

The intention of this piece is not to suggest there is some form of management dictate introduced to prevent employees from having any conversations about topics outside of work. There is always a place for that over lunch, in the pub, or in any purely social environment.

But there’s no doubt that having more fruitful conversations at work and avoiding distractions through just chat will lead to better productivity. And, to emphasise it again, being brand-focused is what will make these conversations fruitful.

Here’s a final exercise on this.

Marketers often describe their brands as people. Who are they? What are their values? And what is their personality?

So, imagine that person listening to any work conversation. How would they feel about it? Good or bad? Only you can answer that question each time you talk with colleagues.