Our final thoughts on ‘Having better conversations’.
If anyone has been following our mini-series on communication, well first of all, thanks and well done. This is part 5, which is basically a reminder of the first 4 parts and then …well…some concluding thoughts. A close. A finish. An ending of sorts. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It’s fair to say that in 100% of organizations that we have worked with, there is always an identified need to ‘improve communication’. Sometimes it’s a survey finding, sometimes it’s anecdotal evidence from staff that they are ‘the last to know’ or managers trying to guess what people are thinking and talking about. We have NEVER, in almost 25 years of work, come across a company that thinks it’s got their communication totally right. It isn’t about size either, as we know, having had our fair share of communication challenges in our very small team of monsters.
We don’t believe there is an easy solution to the problem of poor communication, but what we do believe is that by placing a focus on it, improvements can be made. In our mini-series (which has not been shown on Netflix) we suggested four areas for applying practise to improve matters.
Recognize that there is an art to having conversations and encourage them. They are the fundamental building blocks of relationships. We have offered you our Thumb Folk cards as simple conversation starters and if you haven’t already received your pack then request a set here.
The cards are just a simple way to start meeting conversations, but you have to set time aside for them to happen. So many meetings and interactions start with the transactional, rather than the relational.
Recognize that there is an art to having conversations and encourage them. They are the fundamental building blocks of relationships. We have offered you our Thumb Folk cards as simple conversation starters and if you haven’t already received your pack then click on the link immediately and do so.
Trust – it’s so foundational to communication, that if it breaks down, so does the project, the team or even the whole organization. There’s an industry of therapists and counsellors working on trust in relationships, but there should be the same in business, not just marriages. It can be very costly, both emotionally and materially, when trust is broken.
We have recommended our favourite tool, the Trust Equation, but there are many more to explore. We also love the metaphor of the savings account, where each trusted or trusting transaction places a small deposit on the partner balance sheet. If you build up a trusting relationship, then the account is in credit, is healthy and can even withstand an unexpected withdrawal if things don’t go to plan. Put your trust in others and see it repaid with their trust in you.
It’s critical to read the signs and indicators of what people are thinking and feeling, before during and after conversations. We spoke a little in part three about body language and also the concept of allyship.
Being sensitive to other’s thoughts and feelings is a key component to successful communication and especially anticipating and preparing difficult conversations. If you can gauge the mood and set the right tone, you really are half-way there. In our experience it’s also worth remembering that the idea of difficult conversations is always worse than the reality.
You can also practice them, with a friend or colleague perhaps, but try not to rehearse them only in your mind – your imagination is a powerful tool and will rarely paint an accurate picture. Don’t put off the difficult conversation either, it will only loom larger on the horizon.
If you really do open the floodgates of communication, what do you do with the torrent? How do you manage the flow of ideas and suggestions?
We shared the success of the simple ‘You said, we did’ model. We also discussed the option of ‘Champions’ groups and the capture and playback of employee voices. The rule of thumb here (see what I did there Ed.) is follow up on it.
Never set expectations that you can’t reach, but if you have promised to take peoples’ ideas and share them more widely, then you better had. In a way, this is the measure of communication success and the benchmark. You’ve placed emphasis on communication, you’ve placed trust in the teams; you’ve employed empathy and understanding and done a great job of listening and now there are multiple communication channels which are trusted by everyone to provide up to date information and opinion. Brilliant.
Actually, there is no 5. It’s the other 4 and then some, but doesn’t get an article on its own. Instead, you get a closing argument. Here it is.
In a recent visit, that she has written about more than once, Danielle experienced the kind of culture where communication is valued. She said that she knew it was going to be a warm, friendly, open sort of company, where people would go out of their way to communicate. At what point did she know this? In the car park. I think it’s fair to assume that most car parks would have visitors’ bays, but the ones at Moneypenny HQ in Wrexham have them accompanied with a heart. They’re not afraid of telling their customers that they love them, and their communication skills exude authenticity, not robotic or learnt responses. They chat, they ask questions, are interested and curious about your answers and happy to tell you anything and everything about their story.
This hasn’t happened by accident, but very much by design and if you’d like to know more about their organization, look here.
Incidentally, when we visited the website yesterday to copy the link, we had a quick chat with one of the customer service representatives who thanked us for sharing their company website. Of course they did.
More than anything, to encourage quality communication to flourish, you need to make it ok to communicate. Conversations need to be encouraged and time found for them. There should be no penalties for asking obvious or difficult questions of leadership. The very opposite, they must be welcomed with open arms, open doors and an open invitation. That means that ample time and space must be found for them and leaders need to lead by example.
To be a widely respected and effective communicator takes a lot of practice. To be in an organization that is acknowledged to be great at communication, requires not just individual practise, but also a relentless dedication to creating the right conditions for communication to flourish. If you’re in one of those – please let us know, as we’d love to have a chat.