Shippai Dan & The Importance of Water Cooler Conversation

water2We all like to get into work a few minutes early so that we can have a quick catch-up with our colleagues in the kitchen or by the office water cooler. Standard ‘cooler fare tends to involve gossiping about last night’s TV, what we made for dinner or what we generally got up to after office hours. There might even be a bad joke or two shared between new employees, perhaps involving tennis elbow, a water softener and ice skating.

But employees in Japan have taken a rather unorthodox approach to workplace conversations. Instead of telling jokes about water softeners to break the ice (get it?), the nation’s workers share tales of personal failures or embarrassment. Shippai dan or ‘failure talks’ is an open and honest way for workers to get to know each other, reports Business Insider. The Japanese forgo the traditional joke-telling favoured by many Western workers as jokes tend to be made at the expense of somebody.

It is a team-building methodology slowly making its way into Western HR best practice, as workplaces become more diverse and the potential to offend someone increases.

Many organisations are taking steps to eradicate potential awkward moments spent around their kitchen appliances. They are installing elements such as the aforementioned water softeners in order to prolong the life and efficiency of them and help employees keep conversation flowing.

Organisations with a kitchen clearly appreciate the importance of water cooler talk. They are actively encouraging social interaction amongst workers and the boost this can give employee morale. People are social animals after all and want to feel a sense of belonging. If they feel part of a ‘tribe’ within the workplace then they’ll be far more willing to get stuck in and work towards the goals of that tribe, i.e. the company itself. This is especially true in a small company, where a spot of social interaction can help the whole organisation to forge relationships with one another. Small groups such as this function far better if the members feel like they really know one another.

Overall organisational goals are easier to achieve when everyone is pulling in the same direction, so maybe it is time we started taking some pointers from our Japanese colleagues and stopped making bad jokes about a water softener and ice skating.