How To Have A Real Workplace Conversation
Through my consulting work I get to see the underbelly of a lot of businesses.
I see the challenges, the communication blockages, and the boundaries eroded by change.
Mainly I see one important thing missing.
That is really good conversations between employees and their team leaders and bosses.
I do not think we place a high enough premium on fostering genuine conversation among all levels of management and employees within any workplace.
Employees cluster in coffee rooms to share weekend adventures or complain about work. Managers meet in a different coffee room to do the same thing. Owners converse with other owners or the chosen few in their inner circle, but rarely are there great across-the-board stimulating conversations that leave all parties enlightened and clearer on their intent.
And then they wonder why things aren’t happening like they should.
It is because they are all essentially strangers and have no idea how each other thinks, what they value, and how they will respond in a given situation.
How do you learn all these things? You do it by fostering real conversation in your workplace.
The secret is that you have to prepare really thoroughly for spontaneous conversation. It’s like Mark Twain said about his impromptu speeches, that they took longer to prepare than his scheduled ones.
Before you can get real conversation going, you have to learn the story of the other people you will be talking too, share your story, pose a problem and solve the problem. It’s that simple, but it is shrouded with illusions of difficulty.
To engage in real conversation you need to create an atmosphere where people genuinely listen to each other, where they build trust with each other, where they are free to discuss their experiences and needs, and when you can accept at the end you will have greater awareness and more possibilities.
The issue is that too many companies and organizations engage in debates, not conversations. And you don’t want a debate. Because in a debate, there is a winner and a loser. When people engage in debates, they are not open to what the others are saying. They listen intently, but it is only so they can determine the weaknesses and loopholes and use them to win back the argument. There is no humility involved.
Conversation is different. There is no “us versus them” challenge and no winners or losers.
Debates may look like conversations, but they are anything but an authentic exchange of viewpoints.
How do you get your managers really conversing with your employees?
Start by setting the tone. Practice if you have to and your conversation skills don’t come easily. Start safe on non-work related topics that enable you to learn more about your team.
There is much to be said for weather and sports and televisions shows or big news events as conversation starters. It is safe territory, most people are experiencing them, and they are generally non-confrontational topics. That means you have to stay up to date on these things and take time to listen to the responses.
Within these safe and unguarded responses, you will begin to better comprehend the values and interests of your staff. Did they spend the weekend gaming or gardening or competing in a marathon? Do they watch television or care about sports? Are they renovating a home or polishing up their golf skills? All of these things open the door to better communication down the line.
You can even surprise them after they get going or after a few of these causal conversations by asking “what is you like best about working here?” or “what part of your job do you like best?” Start to gain insight further into their world of work.
Be sure that you are willing to share so that your conversation does not look like an interrogation. But always listen more than you speak.
After a series of these informal conversations, start to gauge more about their area of interest and expertise. Ask them their opinions on certain things that you know are linked to their area of expertise.
If you feel the conversation getting stuck or too routine, change the tempo and ask very open-ended questions. Keep the question within a positive context, however. For example, if your employee is a sports fan and there was a big football game on the night before, ask what they thought of the coach’s handling or a player’s response. Then listen attentively.
If you know the person has expertise even at an amateur level, ask what they might have done?
The whole strategy is that if you start having real conversations about the little things, you will naturally and easily evolve into being able to talk about the bigger workplace things that really matter.
If you pull the person onto your team, you will have a much better idea how they think and their values.
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.Check out Paula’s best selling books: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and due to be released soon “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth” go to Amazon http://ow.ly/i8yW307ix67
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