Reduce uncertainty, work on your conversation culture!

Posted on Apr 21, 2020 in Communication,Hot Topics . 0 Comments.

There are some advantages when work changes in a tremendously dramatic way… it means you get to talk about it! It means you can set up some ground rules for how you are going to operate now and gives everyone a little more certainty. It’s like pausing momentarily to check that everyone has the same songbook before you start singing a different tune (BTW I did participate in an online choir with my sister last week and the choirmaster tactfully muted us… Fair call)!

It doesn’t take long to have a “conversation culture discussion” (aka a ‘CCD’ as termed by me just now), but it can be very powerful. It just makes communication smoother. 

We have been encouraging clients to actively and explicitly discuss what their “conversation culture” should look like at this time. That is, directly making statements such as “this is the way we do conversations at our workplace”, “Let’s talk about how we are going to talk about things, before we talk.” This includes collaboratively discussing questions such as:

  • What does the organisation expect from us regarding how to have conversations and what sort of conversations does it need from us at this time?
  • Why is it important to discuss this now?
  • What do you as individuals in the team expect from each other?
  • What is not OK and should be avoided?
  • What do I expect from myself?
  • We commit to having conversations the following way…

Last week we ran a team session for a client to stabilise communication that had become particularly volatile. One participant, whose toddler made a guest cameo appearance in the Zoom conversation, said “We will need to be more open about how things are impacting us personally. We have not needed to do this in the past, but work and life are on top of each other now”.  Another participant said “I am going to be more direct. We don’t have time and I don’t think I’ve always been upfront, which can make it hard for others”. Another said “You’ve made me realise I can come across as attacking at times of stress”, and my personal favourite “Can we lighten up and have some fun!”

Allowing this team to talk about ‘how’ they are going to have the conversation, before they have it, will allow them to work through the content much more smoothly and efficiently. So, it will save them time, energy and have a positive impact on working relationships.

We are somewhat passionate about the power of a Conversation Culture Discussion. So, if you’d like to know more or how to make a ‘CCD’ happen, please be in touch.

On a different note, here are some of the trends we are seeing emerge:

  • Managers are being expected to have “welfare discussions” with team members but they don’t have “those sort of relationships” nor do they have the skills to comfortably initiate and maintain those conversations. In a few cases, this has led to a clumsy conversation going off the tracks.
  • Hesitation to deal with complaints in this current climate. Please don’t neglect complaints! In one case, we heard a leader excusing significant inappropriate behaviour due to current stresses.
  • Increase in “flame” email communication between colleagues. Some passive-aggressive and some outright aggressive behaviours.
  • Difficulty in setting expectations and holding employees accountable for performance.
  • Conducting end of cycle performance discussions when you know an employee is struggling with their current circumstances.
  • Difficulty in having challenging conversations virtually.

We are supporting discussion and action around all of the above so, if something sounds familiar please reach out to us.


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