Talking shop – learning from conversations with colleagues*

As an idiomatic phrase, ‘talking shop’ has probably never had a pleasant connotation. Think of those  people who can’t let work go at non-work events; or situations or organisations where lots of talking takes place but no decision is ever made and nothing gets done.  Talking shop or professional conversation, to give it a more scholarly gloss, is an invaluable – and often overlooked – source of learning and development in our careers.

Conversation is a little like breathing –  so involuntary, so necessary to life that we usually never stop to think about it. Take a moment now to reflect on an unplanned professional conversation you’ve had with a colleague recently –  grabbing-a-coffee, caught-in-corridor or standing-in-the-photocopier queue chat.

A little preparation can make conversations more constructive and less awkard.  Photo: M. Gillie, Post of Hull.

A little preparation can make conversations more constructive and less awkward. Photo: M. Gillie, Port of Hull.

Who was it with? What was the topic? Which of you introduced it? Did it involve a story with a critical incident? Does anything stand out in terms of the language used, emotions expressed (or  held back), tone of voice? What was the balance of listening, speaking and questioning between you and your colleague? Were there any digressions or changes of subject? What were the implications of these? Looking back, do you think the conversation had an impact on your thoughts about the topic? Do you think there were missed opportunities to learn something or help your colleague to learn?

Conversational analysis has a formal, rigorous research methodology of it’s own; these questions are simply to stimulate reflective thinking about how professional conversation fits into your working and learning life. For those in mentoring or management roles, becoming more reflective and self-aware of professional conversation can support and strengthen these relationships – helping others to become better at learning from ‘talking shop’.

Reading around the subject a bit…

Haigh, N. (2006) Every day conversation as a context for professional learning and development.  International Journal for Academic Development.10 (1), 3-16.

Hirsch, W., Jackson, C. and Kidd, J.M. (2012) Straight talking: Effective career discussions at work. CRAC.

Sarangi, S. and Roberts, C. (1999) Talk, work and institutional order: discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

…has helped me become more conscious of the role conversation, particularly informal, plays in developing my professional skills and progressing in my role.

What experiences have you had in learning from ‘talking shop’? Have you any advice you can share?

*I originally posted a version of this article on the careerconnect blog in July 2013


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s