Having powerful conversations; Demonstrating you’ve listened

So if you’ve been following our mini-series (and who doesn’t these days?) on Communication, you’ll know we’ve reached episode 4 out of 5. In the first three, we’ve helped you do all the right things. You’ve built strong connections and relationships; you’ve created an environment where people feel comfortable raising ideas and challenges and you’ve been positive and inclusive in your approach. Communication is rich and frequent, and ideas are free flowing, so what can possibly go wrong?

Well …. now you have TOO MANY ideas and opinions and you are going to have to say no to some. Some contradict each other, some have unrealistic budgets and some, well, some have obviously been offered up to test the boundaries of what is really possible.

However, this is crunch time. In an environment of better conversations you have to be able to listen to the conversations that are being had but then also respond in a way which even if the answer is no, the recipient still feels that their input is valued even if the specific recommendation isn’t to be actioned.

You have to demonstrate that the process of getting people to open up, talk to each other more and put themselves out there has been worthwhile.

The classic method of doing this is ‘You said…We did’. If many frameworks and feedback methodologies seem complicated, you have to love the language of ‘You said – We did’. There’s little opportunity for misinterpretation. However, whilst it is a seemingly simple methodology, as anyone who has run an employee survey will tell you, putting this into action is complicated and time consuming. Without it however, it is almost as bad, if not even worse than not asking for input in the first place.

This is very common and is called ‘You said ….we pretty much ignored you’. Less catchy and culturally dissatisfying.

Unleash your conversation superpower!

If you are wondering what techniques you can use in order to feedback effectively then here are a selection of tools and approaches we have used in the past.

1. Individual Replies

Probably the most powerful but also the biggest commitment. When engagement is very low or even negative then this is the way to go. It demonstrates your commitment to listening and responding. We did this once after a set of change workshops which resulted in over 1,000 comments. Every single one was answered individually with information on whether the suggestion was being adopted and if not, why not.
Although a mammoth team effort, the appreciation from employees was astounding and this single activity probably accelerated adoption of this particular change by months.

2. Employee Engagement Champions

If you have a new strategy or change programme to manage, then another way to promote quality conversations and add value is by building networks of employees committed to the change. In order to make this work it is important that the people forming these networks are given all the tools they need to do it well. This generally falls into two parts; Knowledge and skills.

In order to feel confident about talking to people then they have to know not just what is going on but also why. So the first part is to get the story straight and make sure it is simple to share. Share as much knowledge as you can around the strategy, the roll-out plans or anything else which is relevant for high quality conversations with wide groups of employees. Similarly they need equipping with particular skills – listening, empathy, coaching, basically building good relationships and being prepared to cope with more challenging conversations.

Investment in these networks can dramatically enhance the quality of conversations people have and therefore how invested they are but they do need support and need to be constantly updated by the programme. Change could fail more quickly if the champions are neglected.

3. Employee Voice Playback

Stories are a very powerful way of sharing the output of multiple conversations and there is no better communication tool than a story well shaped and well told.

Capturing verbatim what people have said and crafting that into audio or video is one way. By using real employee examples and playing them back in an engaging way, the case for change is most credible. This is not ‘management’ invention, but true-to-life stories from within the business. We have seen this done particularly well when audio is used rather than ‘talking heads’ videos. Firstly, by using voiceover artists you can ensure anonymity and audio only leaves space for the imagination of the listener to bring the stories to life in their head.

The key though is making sure that the overall sentiment is reflected in the stories that are chosen. If feedback is balanced, then take care to include a good mix of the positive and negative. Conversely, if the sentiment is predominantly negative don’t be tempted to whitewash the results and reflect the reality, even when senior management would prefer you not to! The test is that if employees listened to that playback, would they feel it is an accurate reflection of the environment they work in.

There are of course, many more ways of reflecting conversations and we have focused here on the mechanisms we have seen used particularly well. In general, the more creative the playback, the more impact they tend to have. You will be better served by visual impact and fun thematic media than you will by a group email. Whatever method you use, the intent has to be honourable and the methodology transparent. As we discussed previously, the Trust Equation determines that Self-Orientation is a destroyer of trust and paying lip service to listening to conversations is self-orientation at play. We would encourage you to listen to what people are saying with an open mind and be willing to adapt and change in response to that feedback. This may mean saying no to an idea, but if it is said with integrity and comes with an explanation, then that is more acceptable in the long run than any attempt to fudge what was said.

Finally, if you are facing the mammoth task of coordinating and sharing feedback from workshops and are wondering if it might be better not to, just remember that instead of the satisfaction of ‘You Said…We Did’ you will most likely get ‘we said …you didn’t …we’re not trusting you ever again’!

Interested in building a culture of trust?