Author Profile Picture

Arran Heal

CMP

Managing Director

Read more from Arran Heal

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

We need to ‘build back better’ work conversations

default-16x9

Employees always knew they’d be going back to a different kind of workplace. New health and safety measures; more automation; less contact time; more options for remote working.

But there’s something more fundamental happening underneath all of that. The nature of our conversations at work has seen a step-change. That means implications for HR and training specialists, as well as managers and careers of workers more generally.

The pandemic obviously accelerated changes already underway in terms of the use of video calls and a reliance on digital interaction. Remote conversations have become the default option. Face-to-face meetings have become the exception, an event needed for socialising and community-building. Employees in general have become less attached to physical workplaces. A BBC survey of the UK’s 50 biggest employers earlier this year found that 43 planned to encourage working from home for two to three days a week going forward. 

Consequently more people are less rooted in the codes and identities provided by a daily place of work and its routines. Fewer team activities, more e-learning. All of this means that the usual to and fro of work conversations has been - and will be - different. Sometimes made easier, sometimes harder. And in some ways workplace conversations will never be the same again. 

On the positive side, for example, lockdowns and remote work meant the need for more contact among managers and peers, more non-work conversations and a greater volume of messaging for updating and feedback. Make-do, informal arrangements took over from the sometimes limited formal processes, the weekly catch-up meeting, the annual performance review. This has also meant the breaking down of what have been strict lines between home and work life. Outside responsibilities and identities had to be left at the door of the office. All those parents trying to balance home-schooling with Zoom calls have helped to loosen attitudes.

But that’s not all. The reliance on digital conversations, video calls and messaging means fundamental differences. Conversations can be more superficial. Instant but lacking the face-to-face ingredients that encourage rapport, active listening and empathy - like body language and signals of mood. With quick, functional exchanges via digital platforms there are greater chances of miscommunication and misinterpretations. Nuance and subtlety can be lost. Evidence suggests people find video calls draining (from the extra effort demanded for listening and creating a connection) and now the novelty has gone that means conversations that are shorter, more mechanical.

Lockdowns have emphasised and exaggerated the divides between good and bad management practice around communications and maintaining relationships. The biggest problem for employers is what happens to difficult conversations. Does that mean bad news and any kind of challenge is skirted over and buried? Small issues allowed to turn into major grievances because of the simple absence of a conversation to clear the air. Academic research has pointed to this kind of unwillingness to listen to problems or ‘negativity’ as one of the main causes for the global financial crash of 2008 - what’s known as ‘prozac leadership’.

Organisations can’t afford to let workplace conversations, the lifeblood of productivity and performance, lose their quality. We need to ‘build back better’ conversations to deal with our 21st century tensions - change, uncertainty, employee activism - in positive and constructive ways. That will require more attention to conversation skills, and among management in particular, for making sure those ‘good’ conversations keep happening. There's a need to be an awareness of the importance of Conversational Intelligence: listening skills, empathy, self-awareness, the fundamental toolkit that helps people appreciate and understand each other - the kind of formula that suddenly turns anxiety, frustration and anger into positive action and change that’s supported and important for everyone involved with the organisation.

 

 

 

Author Profile Picture
Arran Heal

Managing Director

Read more from Arran Heal
Newsletter

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

 

Thank you!