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I'm a software developer. We (our CEO, our project manager and me) currently had a two day project meeting with a client (their CEO, their project manager and two power users).

On the second day the project managers and CEOs had to discuss some organizational stuff, where the user and I were not needed. So they proposed that we do some hands-on testing to improve usability details.

They thought that the meeting of the managers would take about one and a half hours, but in the end took three hours.

The hands-on was really productive and helpful for the user and me for about two hours, but then we ran out of topics. So we three were sitting in front of my PC for an hour, mostly in uncomfortable silence. We started talking about things like holidays and so on.I did not limit myself to any fixed schedule or topic. We covered issues in the current test version of the product, all questions I had regarding the next phase and additional features for current and upcoming parts. There were no topics left I could think of. But as neither me nor them are big small-talkers this felt really awkward.

How could I've handled the situation, what do you do in similar situations?

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    Grab a lunch with them? – Juha Untinen Jul 7 '16 at 9:27
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    So why didn't you just wrap up? Did you honestly both just sit there? Anyway, there are a million things you could have done. VTC. – Lilienthal Jul 7 '16 at 9:34
  • The meeting was in the morning. For lunch we went to a restaurant with the whole team, and the regular project meeting continued in the afternoon. So grabbing lunch or warping up were no options. – raznagul Jul 7 '16 at 9:49
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    Suggest to take a break and walk around. When there is uncomfortable silence in a long meeting it may mean that you just needed to get out of the meeting room for a few minutes. After you come back you'll probably remember something else that needed to be discussed. – Brandin Jul 7 '16 at 9:53
  • Agreed with Brandin! A two hour meeting can be draining, especially if it's productive (but then you don't notice the drain). Get out, do something else. :-) – Peter K. Jul 7 '16 at 13:55
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In addition to the comments above, you are now finding out that small talk is a useful skill.

I suggest picking one or two safe topics - not religion or politics - and practice getting into conversations about them with friends and colleagues until doing so no longer feels at all uncomfortable.

I'm English, so for me the weather is the default small talk subject. The weather has to do something that can be discussed. If it is neither too hot nor too cold, too wet nor too dry, talk about how nice it is. It either prevents or permits taking a walk outside the building, which fits in nicely with taking a short walk-around break.

Of course, any time you think of something to tell or ask the users about the product, switch back to that. The objective of the small talk is to free up your mind to find other relevant material to discuss.

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    "Who do you like for the next pope?" Uncomfortable small talk, religion, and politics all rolled into one. – Myles Jul 7 '16 at 19:37
  • Or alternatively "What do you think about the separation of state and church?" :) But if all the guys are developers, why not talk about some "new" languages or frameworks? – Juha Untinen Jul 8 '16 at 7:31
  • Can English people honestly talk about the weather beyond "It's very hot outside lately and my sweating makes me feel exasperated!", "Indeed! I dislike the heat!", "So we all agree." ? – Traubenfuchs Jul 8 '16 at 9:47
  • @Traubenfuchs "It was not quite so hot yesterday.", "But the day before was even worse.", "Do you think it will get better next week?"... – Patricia Shanahan Jul 8 '16 at 11:07
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Since you had a firm fixed lunch time and a gap that needed to be filled, see if there are any topics you planned on discussing that afternoon or later in other meetings that could be discussed then. If you could not because critical attendees were in the other meeting then do a preview of what will be covered in the afternoon. If you can move even some of the discussion that would result from the afternoon topics/meetings to that morning it would help mitigate other portions of the day running long or could result in the last meeting ending early, and who does not like meetings that end early?

If you have absolutely nothing to fill it with, then as Brandin said in the comments take a break.

  • I don't think this is a great idea if CEOs on both sides are scheduled to be in the afternoon session. "Don't worry boss(es) we covered this without you this morning!" may not go over well. – Myles Jul 7 '16 at 19:34
  • @Myles Oh good point, I missed that part. I will update my answer with a caviot – Anketam Jul 7 '16 at 20:09
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Since as you said, the first two hours were productive it is clear that there would be subjects adjacent to what you covered that could have been discussed. For example you could have discussed some other aspects of the product that the user may have found interesting such as design tradeoffs that you had to make. Similarly you could have asked the user what other features they would like to see in the product.

I have to say that you will go a lot further in what you do if you can stretch yourself beyond what the CEO and project managers told you to do. The situation was only awkward because you let it be so.

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Outside of cultivating the ability to do small talk as was mentioned, you can also spend some time reviewing what you did and the findings that you made. Taking some time to sum up and make sure everyone is on the same page is usually time well spent.

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    You could even have used that time to produce a document with what you learned. – HLGEM Jul 7 '16 at 16:56
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"It looks like we're done early, so unless there's something you'd like to bring up I'll close up now and return the remaining time for you to to other things with. See you (whenever the next meeting is)!"

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