Blog: No room for small talk

Interesting little story this week. Normally, communication and language barriers are the problems that stereotypically come hand in hand with outsourcing, a problem area we have always focussed on trying to eliminate. However, this week, I encountered an area, which I believe we can improve on but it wasn’t your stereotypical example, which made things interesting… 

Here at Godel, we have a full-time English teacher who is focussed on continuously improving our team’s ability to communicate. During our interview process, a candidate’s level of English is assessed and if they are successfully recruited, they are immediately assigned to their English group level class. Each week English lessons are held at the Godel office where staff are invited to participate.

Elena, our COO, had a great idea a month or so ago, suggesting that we bring our resident English teacher plus size bathing suits, also called Elena, across to the UK to meet our clients in the UK to understand how we could improve our communication and interaction skills.

We approached a number of clients and asked if they would be able to give us some of their time to talk with Elena. We were lucky enough that a number of them agreed to help!


During her visit Elena gained some very interesting feedback. She experienced first-hand the British culture, how it varies in different areas including slang terms and accents but also identified some feedback which I found very interesting from a cultural perspective.

What startled me was the fact that the team’s ability to communicate in English wasn’t the area that needed the most improvement; the main area that required improvement was something far more interesting, the “lack of small talk.”

I actually found this quite funny in some ways and very interesting.

Culturally, we British love to talk about the weather, we love to talk about what we did at the weekend, we love to talk about anything really in order to have a dress rehearsal discussion prior to actually talking about the main agenda item!   My experience of working with other team members has meant that I have every day access to working with super people from a slightly different culture, who don’t share the same enthusiasm for small talk and would much prefer to get straight to the point.

Getting straight to the point – is it a bad thing or not?  Interesting……

How many times have I seen people publishing blog posts on Linked In about, “how to manage your time effectively? or How to make your meeting’s productive?” etc.
In this case of there being a “lack of small talk”, who is right and who is wrong?  Well, the customer is always right….!  But it did get me thinking…..

What does small talk give us and why should we take part in it?

Firstly, small talk can help to build relationships.  Having knowledge and empathy is key to being able to understand what maybe motivates your customer, your team-mate on the client side or internal team members.  It allows you to build up a picture and a profile of the team members you work with and gives you the ability to empathise with team member’s motivations, team member’s concerns, as well as to celebrate when you meet each others needs.

Without small talk, how would you discover a person’s interests, how you would build a relationship, how would you make your client or team-mate feel comfortable around you? If they can’t be honest with you at this level, how can you ask them to tell you their inner-most fears or share with you, their inner-most concerns about the project or engagement?

Also, if the meetings you have with each other offer a “cold” experience, what would be the motivation for the client or team member to want to meet with you again in the future?  What impact does this “cold” experience have on the success of an engagement?

I guess this is a small thing that gets lost in detail or translation, yet it is extremely important to ensure success and a positive overall “experience” for teams on both sides.

This may seem like small potatoes but when clients give you great feedback on your teams level of English or your technical capability, yet you identify an area you and your team CAN improve on, its important that you give it the focus!
Where focus goes, energy flows!

Neil Turvin, CEO