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Marathon Mindset - How to have better conversations at work


Another marathon done. In the afterglow competitors will be celebrating PBs, lamenting blisters the size of saucers and wondering why running 26 miles dressed as Big Ben seemed like a good idea in the first place. The spectacle leaves me contemplating the origin of this celebration of distance, endurance and sheer bloody will.

For those of you who don’t know the race commemorates the fabled journey of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier and messenger who, in 490BC dashed 26.219 miles from site of the Battle of Marathon to Athens to report his side’s victory. The lengths some people go to communicate a message!

As an international lead happiness consultant and communication specialist with Laughology, I am constantly surprised by the amount of companies I visit and help whose progress and success is hampered by lack of effective communication.

At Laughology HQ, we talk about Big Chats Little Chats. The premise being that if you take care of the little chats - regularly checking in on people, keeping personal and professional relationships up to date, being interested and engaged with their lives - then you eliminate the need for the big chats. These only seem to take place when things have been left to fester and then blow up.

So, in a bid to assist you in developing and building better conversations, below are some of the techniques that we use regularly with businesses and individuals to help with those little chats.

Top 5 key characteristics of a little chat

  1. Let the other person speak. It’s not about you and your experience.
  2. Ensure the chat is future-focussed.
  3. Make chats fun when appropriate. It’s great for helping people find perspective.
  4. No Hierarchy. Chats aren’t about you knowing best, they’re collaborative.
  5. Make a conscious effort to make time for chats. Initially this may feel over-thought, but after a while they’ll feel more fluid.

In order to have more effective chats at work it is crucial that we aim to create the right environment that enables these chats to happen in the first place.

Make sure they are:


Get to know the person in front of you. Just because you know someone is married, supports Man Utd and goes to Spain twice a year doesn’t mean you know them, it means you know three things about them. People are far more complex and sophisticated than that. To truly engage with others, we need to know as much about them and their story as possible. Be curious and positive about the person in front of you. Ask questions and make sure you give them your full attention.

Anyhow, anywhere

Little chats don’t need to be booked in once a month for an hour on a Friday. If you can create a feeling that chats can take place anyhow, anywhere, this promotes a feeling of openness and trust. This avoids the cycle of conflict where parties agree on something and then don’t regularly check in to discuss what’s happening. This then leads to mis -communication and will ultimately result in a very big chat!

Future focussed

So often conversations at work are about what went wrong, and whilst it is important to recognise this, it is also vital that conversations remain largely future focussed. This means that we can’t change the past but we can renew, refresh, re-think, and re-work what happens next to incrementally improve and evolve what we are doing and where we are going.

A really helpful structure for these chats is as simple as ABC

A – Audit. Clarify expectations; what’s happening now versus what needs to happen

B –Brainstorm. Generate ideas for actions, feed forward or feedback if needed. Remember, brainstorming means quantity over quality. Let the ideas flow and see what comes.

C- commitment. What’s the next step for development? What will you both take away and do? You don’t have to have all the answers, try to encourage a focus on specific actions. Keep it clear and simple and build up a stock of phrases such as “what would you do differently next time” or “next time how about trying…” or “if you could do one thing differently in the future…”.

The techniques above are there to help provide structure to the little chats, but it is worth mentioning that all good conversations require effective listening, or as the old saying goes, if God had wanted us to talk all the time we’d have two mouths and one ear!

There are 3 types of listening

Internal – You listen in terms of your own experience, essentially just monologuing about your own life and waiting so you can crow bar in your brilliant stories. “I wouldn’t have done that, if it was me I would have …..”

Focussed - You concentrate on the other person, seeking to listen and really understand what they are saying. You demonstrate your effective listening by checking clarification through questioning…. “So, you feel upset because you didn’t get the right sort of support?”

Observed – Includes focussed listening and observations based on what you see and hear… ”I’ve noticed that when you mention X you seem to get really upset, what do you think is causing that, How can we make it better in the future?”

Listening in an observed way helps create better engagements, as the listener is concentrating on developing an understanding of what is going on behind the words so they can ask better questions, which in turn leads to more effective little chats.

Listening Tips

  • When listening take into consideration your own thoughts and environment
  • Wait before asking questions – using WWWWWH
  • Look for cues when a person is talking
  • Give them your full attention and avoid distractions
  • Book time in if you need to come back to them

Hopefully these quick effective tips will help you look at how you communicate with those around you. Any long-lasting, fruitful working relationship takes time, energy and commitment. Remember it’s a marathon not a sprint!

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