Productive Conversations: Are You Having The Conversations You Should Be?

Recently I’ve been facilitating staff engagement across the state for an organisation that genuinely wants to improve staff satisfaction. There has been an absolute willingness of staff to participate and the executive team are really enthusiastic about empowering staff to implement actions based on what has been learned during the sessions.

Great! Staff and the executive should benefit.

For me the only downside from the exercise has been our limited ability to help people with individual concerns/problems.For the most part these need to be parked, unless they inform a larger problem.

One recurring individual problem I noticed was poor conversation skills. Across the organisation people were failing to participate in productive conversations. In the work environment this is so important. Staff need to have productive conversations with their managers and across their team so they can:

  • Understand the purpose of their work
  • Raise and resolve issues
  • Find solutions to problems
  • Plan and execute work
  • Share knowledge and ideas
  • Feel like a valued member of a team.

Whether you are a manager, or team member, these are my tips to help you encourage more productive conversations.

1. Pick a good time to start a conversation

If the boss is running out the door to get to a meeting, it isn’t the best time to ask how the new program of work is going to impact your team. Get to know your boss and your team and pick the good time to schedule or start a conversation about the issues and ideas that should be being discussed.

2. Give the conversation, or your view, context

It always helps if other people know where you are coming from when discussing issues and ideas. If you’ve heard something on the grapevine, or have background information that is somehow informing your approach to an issue or idea, let the people you are talking to about it know.

3. Listen and talk

In a conversation all parties need to listen and talk. Some people think faster on their feet than others. If you find you are doing more of the talking, ask some questions, or simply pause and allow enough silence in the conversation that other parties have room to talk.

You may need to plan several conversations about complex or difficult content and acknowledge you won’t get to a solution/agreement in the one conversation.

4. Tackle the tough stuff

This was a big problem I saw on my recent staff engagement. People were reluctant to address harder issues such as poor/under performance, or ask for support for professional development planning or performance evaluation.

The whole team suffers if difficult conversations aren’t being had in a work environment.

Tough stuff is usually not time pressing, so take a week, or a month, to plan for a tough conversations. If you need, get advice from a trusted colleague, your manager/director or HR. Give the other party a heads up about the upcoming tough conversation, ambush rarely gets a good outcome.

Have a structure in mind, or formal agenda if needed, to make sure all issues are raised.

If needed, document agreed goals or actions for all participants. In my experience, the more tough conversations you have, the easier they get.

5. Be honest

You don’t like the project you are currently working on, or perhaps it’s one of the team members you’ve been grouped with.

It is absolutely okay to raise that you don’t enjoy certain tasks or disagree with a current organisational action, however that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it. Working in a team means pitching in.

By being open about your preferences, it may help to send more work you prefer your way, but everyone has to do things that need doing from time to time.

6. Consider your language, tone and body language

Whenever we are talking to people, they take in a lot more than just our words.

In fact 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.

Remember when you are having a conversation with someone, even the most carefully selected inspirational words will go down flat if the rest of your body and tone isn’t giving the same message.

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