Corporate Body Language.
So the guy at the supermarket checkout has told me how his boyfriend was deported from the US after twenty three years and that was why I was being served by him as opposed to the usual uncommunicative "drone" to whom, given my normal reticent persona, I would have barely uttered a word.
Now this information was not foisted upon me. I was not spammed in a "listen to my story" way. It just emerged in a three minute exchange that was completely out of the ordinary supermarket experience. And I had known as I approached the till that there would be a conversation.
Clearly, there's a cultural element to this - one that was evident at the Mocollywood conference I attended earlier this week. There, despite the discussions of cutting-edge busines and applications, it was only americans (notably Danah Boyd and a jet-lagged guy from MySpace that were totally engaging and approachable. In contrast, all the Europeans were leaden and closed and caused Danah later to twitter that they had seemed the most unegaged audience she'd experienced in a long time.
I've lived in the US and I like Americans and their ease of communication but there is more to it than this - I had not known the supermarket worker was american and yet felt at ease before I even got to the checkout. There is something in a person's demeanour - a subconscious reflection of an inner attitude of being willing to engage and to to be engaged. It's not about platitudes or stock "have a nice day" phrases - it runs much deeper than that.
So when we talk about businesses needing to focus on conversational skills in this changing environment, it is good to be reminded that this is not just about systems and processes. In order to facilitate the conversation you have first and foremost to give off the right non verbal cues - your corporate body language has to be right.