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We need to talk:  Rekindling quality conversations at work

We need to talk: Rekindling quality conversations at work

by Moyra Mackie on February 28, 2018

From the outside it looks as if the majority of organisations are in a mess.

Surveys tell us that only a third of workers bring their A-game to the office.   More and more time is spent at work, or working via the umbilical cord of our smartphones, yet productivity is stuck in the pre-digital era.

Stressed and overwhelmed

To make things worse,  more people at all levels in organisations are reporting excessive levels of stress.  Both  employee and company suffers; when we are under stress our brain prioritises survival, and reduces our capacity to think clearly or creatively and to make rational decisions.

Grand initiatives haven’t made a dent in the discontent and disengagement

Everyone seems aware of the problem and a whole industry has sprung up, with million dollar consultancies and business schools clamouring to fix the problem.

However it isn’t working.  Three quarters of those expensive change initiatives fail and it doesn’t seem managers with MBAs can transform the way their teams feel about work either.

So where’s the real problem?

When we at Mackie Consulting listen to people in organisations through our Clarity Survey, and through our coaching work with teams and individuals, people tell us that they are not having the conversations they should be having. What we hear supports the Ken Blanchard Leadership company’s research that shows the extent to which conversations are avoided:

  • 81% say their boss doesn’t listen to them
  • 82% say their leaders don’t provide appropriate feedback
  • 28% say they rarely or never discuss their future goals with their boss
  • only 34% meet with their boss once per week

While people talk a lot, they have lost the habit of having meaningful, quality conversations 

In all too many organisations, meetings are long and formulaic. People come to meetings either to transmit information or receive it. Dialogue seems to have been substituted by the “let-s-read-this-presentation-together” practice.

Meaningful conversations are frequently avoided, and the more challenging conversations are saved up for those zinging e-mails or vented to the wrong person at the coffee shop or water cooler.

Is it time to get back to being human?

But first we need to ditch the idea that when we come to work we become resources or that we can be enticed into a talent pipeline, put in a nine-box grid or placed on a bell curve.  Just take a minute to notice how inhumane and mechanistic all this language is.

In addition to being mechanistic, they don’t work.  We’ve got more than a century of science to show this.

Quality conversations matter for two essential reasons

  1. Results – we need to be able to influence others and manage our differences
  2. Relationships – the quality of our conversations will dictate how connected we feel, how loyal we are, how much we trust, whether we go the extra mile or not

And 1.  doesn’t happen without 2.

You always know when you have had a great conversation

Go on, think about it now.  When was the last time you felt you had a meaningful conversation at work?  What happened in that conversation that makes it a quality conversation?

It’s likely that you felt listened to and valued. It’s likely that all sides in the conversation:

  • Wanted to learn
  • Set their intention to “good”
  • Cared about the outcome
  • Stayed curious and engaged

It’s likely that you felt connected

Human beings are hard-wired for connection.  When we experience this we are more likely to co-operate and to think creatively.  Conversations like these tend to generate both insight and action.

If we can change the conversations, we can change the organisation

As an organisational consultant and coach, generating quality conversations is what I do.

Working with a new client the other week, we came to the end of the session and he said:

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’ve never been listened to like that.  I realise that no-one really listens in our organisation – we’re all too quick to jump to a judgement or make an assumption”

The power of a quality conversation lies in creating an environment where people feel connected and comfortable enough to do their deep thinking and to explore their emotions and motivations. In these conversations, A-ha! Moments are experienced, and people get clarity about the way forward.

It’s time to spread quality conversations throughout the organisation

One thing we often hear from our clients when we have trained their leaders to coach is that they don’t have time to do coaching. These leaders seem to see “doing coaching” as one more task in their to-do list.

My colleague, Sandro da Silva, and I have heard this so many times that we’ve realised that it’s time for something different.  It’s time to show people that you don’t “do” coaching, just as you don’t “do” quality conversations.

In organisations, we talk to each other all the time. It’s high time we changed the way we are in our conversations. Let’s be open to each other. Let’s be generous and listen to our colleagues. Let’s be courageous and express our vulnerability. Let’s create that sparkle again when we meet.

Igniting quality conversations

As part of my commitment to work out loud and to share what I am working on, I want to share the quality conversations that Sandro and I are having on this topic.  These conversations we are having, the research we are doing and the experiences we have gained working with clients, will result in a book later this year.

We are also developing and refining an interactive process that will give teams in organisations the experience and the skills to have these quality conversations.  They will be supported in this process of re-connecting and re-discovering, because habit change is not a quick fix.

People want to work differently

We want to help them by starting small.  With everyday conversations that change the way we relate to each other.  We want to provide the spark that ignites quality conversations.

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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