Business Advice

Ditch the emails: Richard Branson on the power of the humble conversation

Matthew Elmas /

If you’ve ever found yourself sending emails to a colleague sitting within arms reach you should probably stop typing and consider just having a chat.

That’s the latest advice from Virgin founder Richard Branson, who says while he finds himself jetting off emails before most wake up (about 5am) nothing beats human conversations.

“By standing around and sharing a personal chat with somebody, you can develop a rapport, and lay the groundwork for even more fruitful conversations in future,” Branson wrote in a recent blog post.

“Many of the best business ideas I’ve come across have been a result of a quick chat somewhere that has then developed into a working relationship.”

Unsurprisingly, Branson isn’t short of people to chat with — he climbs mountains, camps and embarks on cross-country bike rides with people full of ideas.

But it isn’t always so easy, or so natural. Emails or other text-based communication are often less daunting than face-to-face conversations, even with close colleagues.

Australians do pretty well as far as face-to-face communication goes. A Swinburne University survey of 1,000 people in 2016 found 84.1% use email “often or quite often” at work, compared to 85.6% for face-to-face.

The same survey found more than half (61%) of respondents had one or two email accounts though, while more than a third (36%) had between three and five.

As Branson explains, it’s easy to let email become the default method of communication at work.

“Many people worry that they might say the wrong thing or not organise their thoughts properly,” he writes.

His advice? Chill out, if you get tongue-tied, laugh it off.

And if you still aren’t confident, try listening, you’ll learn more.

“I saw this quote from the writer Earl Wilson, and it makes a lot of sense: ‘Science never came up with a better office communication system than the coffee break’,” Branson wrote.

As for the scenery, a watercooler could do, but Branson recommends a British classic: chatting over a cup of tea.

Not black though. Milk without sugar for Branson.

NOW READ: The value of punctuality: Why being late irritates Richard Branson

NOW READ: Richard Branson on the best way to frame a question

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany.

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