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Have you ever been to one of the big coffee shop chains during the day? I think I can assume you probably have at some point so you know the environment I am talking about. Well, next time you are in one, do a little bit of people watching. I guarantee that there will be the usual groups of people meeting there for coffee and a chat and amongst the crowd you will probably see several people engaged in business.
I think this is indicative of a change in the wider context of the way business is carried out in the workplace. Although there is clearly still a place for the formal meeting, it is now very common for, what we could call non-private business, to be conducted in a far less prescribed manner. I suspect this is down to people realising something that we all already knew, that business-to-business relationships are just as much about the people as they are about the products or services. There is a lovely phrase that you will hear quite a lot these days which underpins this way of thinking – ‘Human to Human’. It is important to us that we get to know the people we do business with, because through knowing them we learn how to work with them better.
A coffee and a chat does not stop a meeting being productive, and it doesn’t mean that the business conducted needs to be any less professional. It simply means that the people involved can be a little more natural and relaxed. In my experience, not only does a less formal meeting end up being just as productive as a formal one, it is actually more helpful to the long-term relationship. It allows discussion in a clearly non-confrontational atmosphere. It’s hard to be nervous, defensive, over-zealous with the sales pitch, or dictatorial in a more casual arena. In a meeting of this kind, we are ourselves, and we are doing business with real people.
We all like to do business directly with people, and this is becoming more and more evident. Even to the extent that many websites now have a pop-up chat facility when you visit. Even though we are remote and separated by electronics, even in this situation we still get offered the option of a chat with a human being.
I was flicking through the TV channels the other day and happened upon an old sitcom from the late 70’s. I honestly don’t remember the show at all, but the scene I saw was set in the meeting room of an office block. It was pretty typical 70’s TV, but what struck me most was how the characters addressed each other. They were introduced as Mr Smith from accounting, or Mr Jones from the Reading branch and so forth. Everyone wore the same shirt and tie and they all paid strict attention to the Boss as he dictated the way the company should run.