Can We Sit and Talk? 3 Great Reasons for Starters

Can we sit? Maybe not.

At first it was an annoyance.
It has become a pet peeve.

I am out and about a great deal with the work I do, for I am often out of my office and in the workplaces of those I am teaching and coaching. As I go about the doing of what I do, I find I am having more and more of a challenge with simply finding a place to sit.

Workplaces have become way, way too space-efficient for my liking. Beyond my own preferences, I also think that if you don’t have ample gathering space where people can collect informally to talk story, or sit and work on their own within brief changes of scenery, you are missing out on a huge opportunity for more creative collaboration.

And collaboration can be done with both people and with place.

No wonder I drink so much coffee!

1. Smart Business Capture

At first I was annoyed within those times I fill between my appointments, often stopping to find a Starbucks-like coffeehouse, or a bookstore with a Café, for what I’m hunting for is a tabletop of some kind: Park benches aren’t great for the writing I will inevitably do. Many times I’ll find a Café, all too willing to shell out some cash for the ticket rights of official patronage, but there never seems to be enough seating.

It may very well be that the success of Starbucks has a little to do with coffee, but mostly is about what they call creating a third place for us. Smart, smart people… fulfill a need, grab some business as you do so.

Draw yourself this picture of possibility:

2. Manifesting Possibility

Tech_conversationNext time you pass a Borders Bookstore or Barnes & Noble, take a look at their Cafés: 9 times out of 10 there won’t be an empty table, and the people you see aren’t just reading, they are working.

Now imagine all those people with these conversation bubbles over their heads, whether they are alone or with someone else – do you see the wealth of creative and collaborative possibility?

That’s what you could have if you created a place to sit and talk and work in your workplace that is not an office, not a cubicle, and not a conference room with all their normal connotation baggage.

No more flavor of the month training – I get it now!

3. Consultant (and Peer) Intimidation Begone

Selfishly for me, but this is also for you, you could have a place where visitors like me could sit and talk story with your staff after we’re done with the appointment or class part of what we originally came for.

We become more approachable, what we brought for you is more accessible, and you get much more out of us absolutely free because you have made it easy for us to give it to you. Chances are we won’t feel you are taking advantage of us, for we’re there anyway, and we’re comfortable.

Your people would ask us the questions they ask when they have the opportunity to catch us one on one; important questions they hesitated to ask for some reason when we allocated time for Q&A within our sessions, and were met by the dead silence of "No way, I’m not asking this in front of everyone else."

It happens a lot… you’d be amazed how long some of my goodbyes take in your parking lot. Imagine if we actually planned better for it.

So how about it? Give us a place to sit?

thinking red, green and black on Flickr by jmsmytaste

Oh Alice, I feel for you!


Cartoonists have a way of communicating a message that I so, so admire and envy!

Today’s Dilbert by Scott Adams is one of those that hit way too close to home. You can click on the image for it to pop up in a bigger window, or see it on

You aren’t Ted, or Wally (the messenger in this strip) are you?

Talk Story about Stopping: 5 Reasons to Kill Auto-Pilot

For Sunday Mālama on MWA Coaching today I wrote about how thankful I am for my ‘Imi ola Stop Doing List, for it has brought an amazing sense of balanced rightness to my life. Having a list of those things I will stop doing has ironically given me a sense of accomplishment with them because I recognize how much is now simply done, and over for me. Sure, there are those things that I chastise myself for, in that they never should have captured my time and effort in the first place, but I’ve learned to be kind to myself, not dwell on them too much, and chalk them up to my learning.

20070509todolistUp to now, my Stop Doing List has been a private self-talk (here are some of the items I originally wrote on it). However after sharing Sunday Mālama, my next thought was about talking story: Don’t you think what we should stop would be a great topic for discussion at work?

Reading back over my first paragraph, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea: The Stop Doing List is not just for a therapeutic logging of your past. When you list things, you are writing your commitment to stop them in the future so that you can focus your attentions on what is much more important. You banish any busyness that doesn’t really contribute to the business.

The fringe benefit? Whatever turns out to be your new picks of what is more important, and can replace the busyness, usually turns out to be much more exciting, inspiring and fun; fact is, new creates more energy than old.

We get into automatic pilot for so many different reasons, and our workplaces get crammed with such repetitive busyness that eats up significant blocks of time when you add it all up. Some of the most common reasons?

  • We are comfortable with the quiet routine of our busyness: Doing the same items day after day gives us a predictable rhythm where we may be "busy" but everything is relatively calm.
  • We interpret surprises as risky, unwelcome change: Because of their repetition, there are usually few surprises with the stuff of our busyness, and our outcomes are pretty low risk.
  • We think process versus project: Often, we do things that fulfill old expectations, because when a new expectation was voiced we interpreted it as the next part and not necessarily the replacement part.
  • We willingly do our busyness for others: We do stuff on job descriptions that should be updated, or because we think the boss still wants us to. We think we need permission to stop.
  • We’re part of a team process: Our busyness is done for others, even though we don’t quite understand why, or know for how long. Many reports fall into this category: You keep producing it for someone else, someone who no longer uses it, but doesn’t want to be the jerk who invalidates your work.

I don’t have to spell out the down side of these five bullets for you: You know what they are. They all hold you back, and keep you from generating new ideas.

The last two are perhaps the most draining and disengaging reasons of all, for they create apathy and boring work you feel you have no choice in. You should push that stop button and ho’ohana: Do work you do for you, and not for someone else.

For your next Talk Story, have a brainstorming session and ask everyone, What do you think we should stop doing? What processes do we continue to do which have lost their original usefulness to us? How much time could we save, and how could we use it better?

If you are a manager, take this one step further, and be absolutely sure that everyone understands why the work they do matters – and if it doesn’t? Stop it and replace it with work that does. (Read about the Role of the Manager here.) Replace busyness with a pilot project and experiment: Get buy-in from co-created work, and help your staff discover what their ho’ohana is: Ho‘ohana: Love Your Work.

"Red-y Set…" on Flickr by flattop341

Also in Let’s Talk Story 2008:

Talk Story about your Values with Pictures

What happened to On the Job Training?

“Training? To be honest, ours is on the job training, and that’s about it.”

If a manager admits that to you, they often have a cowed expression on their face, and they say the words apologetically. They’re quick to explain about cutbacks in training budgets, or they feebly try to change the subject somewhat, under the guise of giving their senior employees some strokes for doing such a good job at it with their newbies.

However I have to say that I would welcome more On the Job Training if only it actually happened consistently, and included some healthy doses of coaching.

Thanks to my own work and the fact that I travel so much to do it, I’m able to collect a lot of customer experiences, and I am in a lot of workplaces where I eventually become one of the gang and people let their guard down, comfortably becoming their normal at-work selves around me. I rarely see any On the Job Training actually happening, and if I do, it is all about skills with sprinkles of random knowledge factoids sprinkled on top. There isn’t any coaching.

Now I understand that managers need to be discreet about it, and that I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) actually see the coaching happening before my eyes unless those managers were real jerks who didn’t care about embarrassing their staff. However I would eventually enjoy the results of managers training and coaching their people on the job if it happened, right?

I am on a business trip right now, and this is day 4 for me of a 7-nighter in the same place. There is a major chain bookstore near my hotel that has proved to be an every-day haunt for me because of its cafe and free parking, and bookstores are like great big candy jars for me anyway – love ’em. It didn’t take me that long to figure out who the floor managers are, and to pick a few staff people to keep tabs on over the course of my frequent visits, staff members who really have no concept of warm, gracious, engaging customer service skills. They certainly were not hired for their smile readiness, for they don’t even give them to each other.

I couldn’t stand being a manager for one day in this place, without taking these employees aside individually and coaching them…

I’d like to give you some coaching on handling the next customer coming up to the counter, okay? I can see that you have the skills you need as a cashier down pat right now, and your transaction time is quick and efficient: I’m sure people appreciate that, as do the customers waiting their turn in line. Now let’s put your personal signature on your work, and get your warmth and aloha to shine through. Instead of saying, “next in line?” look directly at that person in the front of the line, make eye contact and give him or her your biggest, brightest smile, and say something like, “hello, may I help you now?”

Then, I’d discreetly watch them with the next few customers, and yes, they would know I was watching. I would be their biggest cheerleader when they got it right, thanking them for making the extra effort, and letting them know how much I appreciated it – and how positive I am that they made a big impression on the customer too.

Instead, I see managers oblivious to the quality of service the customers are getting – even when they are pitching in at the very next register. They just don’t see what I see as a customer, and if they do, they aren’t responding to it, and they aren’t coaching.

You don’t have to apologize to me for “only” doing On the Job Training. You should be apologizing to your employees, your customers, and your business for not doing it.

Flicker photo
by webchicken