For at least a decade, parents have been lamenting the lack of conversation over the family dinner table as reclusive teenagers prefer virtual friends and digital texts to old fashioned human eye contact and conversation. Now, the corporate world has good reason to share these concerns, highlighted by more people working from home, isolated from anything other than digital based interaction.
How did honest conversation fall out of fashion at work and become so challenging?
Conversation is about questioning, exploring and revealing. It can be difficult because we don’t always know what is going to come up! We don’t know how vulnerable colleagues may be feeling. It can be hard to listen requiring skills we don’t practice such as staying present and not assuming we know what is about to be said! The call to action for leaders and managers at the moment is to create safe environments where people feel willing and able to say they are struggling, or for others to ask how people are doing noticing the signs that things are not ok! Progressing the ‘art’ of digital or face to face conversation is about not talking over others on a call, it is about moving beyond fear, power and egos, it is about asking good questions and being curious.
Virtual working and infrequent time together demands that we trust we will be safe having tough conversations when we feel vulnerable. Trust to allow people to work from home without being micromanaged. Trust to make mistakes, and trust to not always be expected to have the answers!
Lockdown has taught us we can slow down, so I recommend giving time to listening! The principle of “practice makes perfect” does apply when trying to model the skills we use without conscious thought.
Helpfully, we are not brains on sticks! If we use all of our senses during a zoom call we may just discern what is not being said in a conversation. Increasing such awareness develops our ability to give emotions a valid role in the workplace without needing it to become fluffy or the prerogative of the HR department.
Next time you are on zoom, notice what you notice! Have videos on so you can see colleagues and find a way to privately check in with anyone looking less than ‘with the programme’! Practice modelling the art of good conversation by being present, demonstrating good listening and tuning into your 5 senses without the need to be right!