Bring Hawai‘i to the Workplace by ‘Talking Story’

Last time we talked a little bit about recession-proofing our Aloha Spirit, doing our personal best with making sure we add optimistic voices to the sound waves which surround us. It’s something we can do a hundred times or more each day, for we communicate with each other almost constantly. We all have a fabulous tool readily accessible to us, one which doesn’t cost a dime more in expenditure no matter what business you might be in: Our words, and the way we string them together to be more positive, and less negative. More possibility thinking; less doom and gloom.

Let’s explore the thought even further, looking at who we are, and at our Sense of Place. There is a way we speak with each other which we largely take for granted. ‘Talking story’ is something we think of as local to Hawai‘i as the Aloha Spirit, and our using it as a concrete, foundational business strategy is long overdue. ‘Talking story’ can very easily be adapted as Business Communications 101, local style —for it works.

Our talk, and our stories

6. Talking Story Grows Up
‘Talking story’ might be just as important to our Hawai‘i communities as is ‘sense of place’ and our cultural values of Aloha. We have a way of communicating with each other that is an exceptionally positive expectation, unspoken yet pervasive in our islands, and that expectation is this: Create a good relationship first, and do your business transaction second (even those ‘business of life’ transactions) and then that transaction will be good too.

When talking story grows up and really, truly comes to the workplace with us, we will enjoy another kind of evolution, one in the way we communicate with each other and create a larger verbal asset. Our ancestors had a great word for this: They called this ‘asset’ the mo‘ōlelo. Can you imagine how little we would know about our heritage today without it? What is the mo‘ōlelo we have stopped creating for Hawai‘i’s future generations?

From: The Top 7 Business Themes on my 2009 Wish List

It sounds almost silly trying to even explain it: ‘talking story’ is a local expression meaning exactly what it sounds like; talking through stuff to get the whole story told —or created! It’s taking the talking-out-loud time to be more than understood; it’s taking the listening-to-the-whole story time to genuinely care about what someone may be trying to express to you. And there’s more”

Eh! No hold back!

When you talk story there is the expectation that you will offer your opinion too, and it will have been one that was carefully considered. In the very least, it will be offered to empathize with the story teller who has drawn you into their confidence, fully willing to give you all the juicy details of their story, leaving nothing out.

So tell me: Why don’t we do more of that at work too? Not just as small-talk when we’re having our coffee or when winding up our lunch hours, but as the way we communicate about the work itself? Why don’t we add the whole story to our talking out loud, and “eh, no hold back!”

Despite all the time we spend in the workplace, most people don’t get past small-talk chatting, politically-correct banter and unproductive silences. We don’t talk to each other enough about the important stuff that counts —the stuff that can give us the best work/life stories possible.

What if we were to bring the water cooler spirit with us throughout our entire work day? Talking story is much more effective than we give it credit for being. Conversation creates energy, makes your ideas happen, and gets your relationships to bloom and thrive.

The expectancy: Positive and personal

At its purest form, to talk story is to shoot the breeze with someone because you have some laid-back, easy-going, relaxing time to do nothing but swap stories with each other about everything that is personal but light and joyful with you. You talk with someone like you have known them forever; you are direct and to the point, no posturing or pretense, and asking questions freely, but never crossing that line of intimacy that even the best of friends would never cross without invitation. You don’t need much context in way of introduction; you just jump in and talk to someone just because they are there smiling at you, and you have this positive expectancy that Aloha lives and breathes within them. What more do you need to know?

There is so much in life that is happily light-hearted, and that’s what talking story celebrates. The less serious the better; talking story is best when there is tons of smiling, laughter and kidding around about stuff that is pure nonsense. You laugh with each other, and at the silliness and yes, even the stupidity of life. Then, when the talking story is over, it is over. Goodbyes are said with hugs and Aloha. No promises made, no commitments to be honored, no follow-up calendared (unless it’s for a party somewhere) —you just go merrily on your way again as carefree as a mynah bird.

There’s a little of this in the workplace; let’s get more!

Right now, talking story at work is a kind of a warm-up exercise that opens people up for when they need to roll up their sleeves and get into more serious matters. However you don’t get into those serious matters of work that will surely mix personal and professional into a people-pungent stew-and-rice mixed plate (come on now, it’s to be expected after all), unless you have a talking story relationship with all those people first, one that has been built on Aloha, on trust, and on mutual respect.

Am I suggesting that part change? No, not at all. That’s the part that we want to keep: Relationship first, built on aloha as a foundation, and then further fortified by whatever values are most important to a company’s organizational culture.

So create that relationship! If you are a manager, make it okay for everyone to do so. If you feel you need to talk about groundrules do so —let that be the first talk story you have!

Think about it. What if everyone in your business began to think of ‘talking story’ as the way to dramatically improve workplace communication in 2009 as a deliberate business strategy based on the Aloha Spirit and our fabulous localness? How could it change things where you work?


~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” ~
Bring Hawai‘i to the Workplace by ‘Talking Story’