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making small talk before a meeting starts

 
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I went to a presentation about tips for working with remote colleagues. One of them is to make more of an effort to make small talk before meetings start. (like before the daily standup.)

So I thought it would be fun on the ranch to brainstorm some small talk topics.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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I'll start:
  • weather in your city
  • do anything interesting over the weekend
  • how are your kids (we don't have a lot of parents on my team so this falls sort of flat)
  • ask about a hobby
  • ask about a recent vacation
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    Greenhorn
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  • Favorite artist/musician
  • Seen any good movies lately?
  • Read any good books(non-technical) lately?
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    Marshal
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    Most of the remote teams I've dealt with have visited Austin at one time or another and they always seem interested in goings-on in the city.

    Including the weather , and the music scene (which Austin is famous for)¹.





    ¹ Coincidentally, I went to a Tears For Fears concert last night. Great show!
     
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    Did you favourite football club win? Especially popular with male on Monday morning.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    But euh, Jeanne, which management course actually told you programmers like small talk?

    I can 'take' a bit of small talk in the office but there are two objections:

    First. Small talk in the office is really small talk. It should not be too offensive to anyone, too funny, too interesting (like heavy subjects including philosophy or politics). So most often small talk is just boring talk.

    Second. When I am debugging a feature and for example I am in concentration and almost have found it, the last thing I need is a manager starting small talk. A few of the questions above could cringe me at the wrong moment. Once the financial manager tried this with me. After two minutes trying to get rid of him, I looked him sharply into his eyes and said: 'Are you lonely?'. I knew that was not beneficial for my career, but nevertheless.
     
    Marshal
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:. . .

  • weather in your city
  • We once had some Texan visitors and one asked in advance whether talking about the weather is acceptable. So I told her that

    Lovely weather today, isn't it?

    is always acceptable; it covers everything between warm sunshine and knee‑deep snow and howling gales quite acceptably in England.


  • do anything interesting over the weekend
  • I am not old enough to remember when barbers always asked, “something for the weekend, sir?” as they finished cutting your hair.

  • how are your kids
  • Kill two birds with one stone; when Ruth went into hospital there was warm sunshine and by the time my daughter showed her face to an unsuspecting world there was knee‑deep snow and a howling gale.
    Those are the sort of question you ask at the beginning of interviews, too, just to help the candidate relax a little.
     
    Bear Bibeault
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    Jan de Boer wrote:the last thing I need is a manager starting small talk.


    There's a fundamental difference between making some friendly smalltalk before a meeting starts and someone barging into your office/cubicle/3-ft-of-table-in-a-gawdawful-googlesque-project-space and interrupting you to chat.

    Luckily I avoid this nowadays by working at home where even my dogs won't brave the stairs up to my office.
     
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    Jan de Boer wrote:Did you favourite football club win? Especially popular with male on Monday morning.


    With the start of the football (soccer) season fast approaching, premier league transfer news is good small talk at the moment.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:

    Jan de Boer wrote:the last thing I need is a manager starting small talk.


    There's a fundamental difference between making some friendly smalltalk before a meeting starts and someone barging into your office/cubicle/3-ft-of-table-in-a-gawdawful-googlesque-project-space and interrupting you to chat.



    You know exactly what I am talking about. Yes. The manager probably had a 'I must mingle with the common folks' agenda remark, and started interrupting people their daily jobs they do with hard sweat, without judging whether they had any desire to play along with that. More people were irritated that day, I remember.
     
    Saloon Keeper
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    I usually observe something and comment on that.
  • "Nice shirt"
  • "You seem quite happy today."


  • Other generic topics:
  • Weather
  • Traffic
  • There was an accident today morning on 101
  • Just quote the headline from the news
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    lowercase baba
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    (leaving the whole "manager busts in when i'm trying to code" issue aside...)

    I'm currently in a "Managerial Leadership" class. One of the theories we talk about says that some people are "business first" and "social second (if at all)".  Other people are the opposite. Part of the manager's job is to figure out who is who, and engage them in the manner they most prefer.
     
    Campbell Ritchie
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    salvin francis wrote:. . .

  • "Nice shirt"
  • "You seem quite happy today."
  • . . .
  • There was an accident today morning on 101
  • . . .

    I can see risks to all of those.
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:

    Jan de Boer wrote:the last thing I need is a manager starting small talk.


    There's a fundamental difference between making some friendly smalltalk before a meeting starts and someone barging into your office/cubicle/3-ft-of-table-in-a-gawdawful-googlesque-project-space and interrupting you to chat.


    Right. I'm assuming the context is everyone is in the room a couple minutes early and waiting for the standup or retrospective or whatever to start.

    "3-ft-of-table-in-a-gawdawful-googlesque-project-space" - but, it must be good if Google does it! (I appreciate having a cubical so I can focus).
     
    Bear Bibeault
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:"3-ft-of-table-in-a-gawdawful-googlesque-project-space" - but, it must be good if Google does it! (I appreciate having a cubical so I can focus).



    I've worked in a couple of these and found it to be the most hostile work environment imaginable.

     
    Campbell Ritchie
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    Jan de Boer wrote:Did you favourite football club win? . . .

    Where I live, that will have everybody in tears. Our local football team did so badly last season that the only good thing one could say about them was that XYZ were doing worse.
     
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:I went to a presentation about tips for working with remote colleagues. One of them is to make more of an effort to make small talk before meetings start. (like before the daily standup.)

    So I thought it would be fun on the ranch to brainstorm some small talk topics.


    A good statistically founded guideline is understanding the nationality of the target. Of course is a generalization but helps.
    Small talks, yes almost always. How long? This is the problem. Depending of course on the feedback of the moment, Germany I would do 30 seconds, Netherlands 1 min, North Italy 5 minutes, South Italy 10 min..

    These are my experiences, I remember when I started to work in Amsterdam, was calling some Dutch suppliers, doing a lot of small talk. I knew later they were really wronged by the fact
    every day I was doing 5 min talk rotating arguments( weather|football|family|vacation), and when they saw my number they did alternate to hang up the phone:)

    How do I know that? My talkative attitude in the end seduced a really gorgeous Dutch girl that was working for them,  that for this reason became my girl friend, and she confided me that in a more o less more intimate moment

    this shows three things
    1) generalizations are good on a first statistical level
    2) Everybody is different and generalizations can become really dangerous
    3) Being "more o less" spontaneous pay off more than canny lines.
     
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