Why we need to have more real conversations in the workplace

A couple of years ago, cultural anthropologist Simon Sinek’s viral interview on millennials in the workplace alerted us to the decline in genuine connections between colleagues in modern work settings.

But have we heeded his advice to open up more to each other?

Or has the idea of having ‘real conversations’ with our colleagues felt even more difficult as we struggle to cope with the stresses and strains of life in a pandemic?

In the business of caring for people… are we caring for each other?

Open and honest communication has been rated by experts as an essential element to employees’ wellbeing, with research increasingly finding that it benefits workers’ productivity, too.

HR specialist Tracy Maylett writes:

“When employees feel a deep, strong connection, they are more likely to expend extra energy for one another, to give more to the organisation, and to be more positive in the things they say both at work and away from it.”  

Many have written about the importance of ‘psychological safety’ in workplaces, i.e. a culture of being able to communicate new ideas or raise concerns without risking judgement. Eliminating the fear of failing and taking the charge out of troubleshooting errors opens the way for increased innovation, collaboration, and professional development across your organisation.

Plus, some research is reported to show that workplace cultures that don’t allow for dialogue around mental health are costly to employers.

So it’s pretty clear – having real conversations with our colleagues is good for us. But there are also some dangers to look out for.

“Eek! I didn’t want to know that…”

As remote video conferencing in lockdown literally gives our colleagues and superiors a window into our home life, it’s easier than ever to let our sense of personal and professional boundaries slip.

Having open and real conversations helps build empathy and collaboration as we’ve seen – but if they tip into oversharing or ‘TMI’ (too much information) territory, they can equally hinder productivity when workers feel uncomfortable or awkward around each other.

If that’s the case, an appropriate meaningful conversation could be around acknowledging your colleague’s desire for connection but redirecting it to more comfortable territory.

On the other hand, if your colleagues don’t tend to share much past the Monday morning “How was your weekend”, consider a ‘baby steps’ approach to avoid coming off as intrusive – or overwhelming.

This could be a matter of asking questions about a colleague’s family and hobbies to open up the way for future conversations that could eventually, if not immediately, form a safe environment to support each other’s wellbeing.

The how-to  

Since humans are wired to interpret most communication through voice, tone and body language, it’s important to consider how we have meaningful conversations – not just what we’re going to say in them.

Make sure you have the time, space, and a quiet and reasonably private environment in which to listen. Not just to what your colleague is saying, but how they’re saying it.

For example, you might set up a 20 minute morning tea Zoom call with a colleague every Friday to chat about the week that’s been. You may be surprised by just how powerful a small intentional moment of listening can be.

Research has found that good listeners can have a significant impact, perhaps because of the insight listening gives to being able to ‘tune in’ to the factors affecting their colleague who’s sharing and then be able to speak into these in future interactions.

In the context of a workplace, the benefits of good listening could transpire as decreased conflicts or misunderstandings and increased empathy, patience, and interpersonal collaboration and support – because if we know what’s on a teammate’s mind, we’re far less likely to take their reservedness or brevity personally and be on edge as a result. 

How will you connect with your colleagues this week?

Whether there’s a pandemic or not, meaningful conversations in your workplace bring so many benefits. How will you start a real conversation with a colleague this week?

Want to have a real conversation with us about the next step in your career? Get in touch today.

Leave a comment