In a recent Group Coaching Call, we discussed “motivating higher performance through conversation”. The choice of the word conversation was intentional, and the leaders on the call agreed that performance, engagement, and relationships in the workplace could benefit from more conversation and less of other types of interactions that we label “discussion,” “feedback sessions,” and “performance reviews.” Semantics, you may say, but the focus is really on the intention inspiring the interaction. Not corrective, rather creative!
The leaders identified how thinking about an interaction (for example with a colleague or staff member) as a conversation changes the focus and allows for a more authentic and vulnerable interaction to occur—one that is more likely to inspire and engage than traditional modes of interaction often used in the workplace. As one call participant, a facilitator, said:
With Conversation, You're Both There...
“Employees and managers have lives outside of work and that whole person shows up at work. 'Conversation' implies informal, two-way give and take, authentic exploration, a level playing field. It also implies shared responsibility, not just one up, one down. In a conversation, you’re both there as the whole person. I think people are afraid of what 'conversation’ implies because we have conversations socially, but at work we have ‘discussions’ and ‘reviews’ and ‘sessions.’ Shifting to ‘conversation’ can move us forward so much.”
With general agreement from all of the leaders on the call on the power and importance that a conversational mindset can have in the workplace, Dale invited them to explore why there is fear around “just talking”—freely and authentically—in the organizational setting. One senior advisor in the public service, an HR specialist, pointed to a culture of secrecy as being part of the culture in his environment—and he also offered a solution:
“Depending on the environment you’re in, sometimes you cannot speak openly. Even though you want to speak the truth you may not be able to—may not be able to share with the people you want to share with. I think we can still connect while being honest about what we can't disclose. To inspire an employee, they need to understand how their work is contributing to a change or a benefit, both to them and to the project. I try to create as much conversation around their WHY and their WAY as I can: Why are we doing this? Why should we do it this way or that way? How have you been working? Do you like this type of work? Where do you want to go? Those are easy conversations to have, and they create amazing relationships and engagement.”
The participants further explored the notion that there are some conversations they felt they couldn’t have even if they want to. Dale asked: “What would it take for us to feel confident and comfortable in having those conversations? What needs to happen for us to engage in conversation differently?”
Trust is Crucial for Meaningful Conversation
The resounding agreement was that TRUST is crucial to open up space for meaningful conversation. A consultant participating in the call said:
“It’s about trust, on many levels. First, trusting that what you want to say is okay to say. There are always repercussions for everything you say, no matter what role you are in or what sector. As soon as the words leave your mouth it’s out of your control. It’s once bitten, twice shy: if you get a negative reaction, or see someone else try to speak openly and they get a negative reaction, you are less likely to try again. We need to build trust around the idea that it’s okay to have ideas and for those ideas to not be liked. It’s okay to JUST TALK.”
Other participants added:
“It’s hard to build trust where there is secrecy, but it's possible. You can create an environment to have conversations in. I was on a project where we had a war room. In that room, anything could be said and it wouldn’t leave that room. Anyone working on the project could go into that room and say anything, even yell or be upset. The idea was that you could get it off your chest and then go finish the work with no repercussions. You can have rich conversations if everyone in the room understands that they are contributing to something greater than they could do individually.”
It's All About Healthy Conversations
Dale highlighted the premise of healthy conversations—that when we speak from our truth with the intention of creating stronger bonds through vulnerability, we are not responsible for other people's reactions. It's clear that we've all learned how to talk, but not necessarily to communicate effectively. Trust, building trust, and creating space for authentic conversations are topics that will be explored in future coaching calls, among many other inspiring ways of living and workin.
If you would like to kickstart a change in the conversations and results that occur within your team, or if you’d benefit from a coach to guide you through shifting your communication with employees from “discussion” to “conversation,” please contact us.