Why real conversations are more important than ever in today's workplace.
— March 11th, 2020
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
These powerful words have been attributed to different authors from Carol Buchner to Maya Angelou, and regardless of who said it, it strikes a chord with whoever comes across it and reads it.
We may forget the details of certain conversations and events that occur in our lives, but we will remember how we ‘feel’ about these moments, and how the people in that story we replay in our minds made us feel.
This sentiment rings particularly true in workplace environments.
Often when you are asked about your work, it has something to do with your feelings about what happened that day and your interactions with your colleagues and in particular, your experiences with your direct line manager or more simply put – the boss.
The conversations one has with one’s boss — or sometimes bosses — have more impact on our wellbeing and our work than we like to admit.
While things are often more complicated and layered than having a single reason for a decision, a popular saying goes: People don’t quit a job, they quit a boss.
Study after study shows many reasons why people feel unhappy at work, with lack of engagement at the top of the list, and at the core of this are feelings of one’s contributions being unappreciated or unrecognized, and how their voice doesn’t matter.
If you really think about it, what we all really want deep down is a simple feeling of “I matter.” When employees feel “unheard,” they get demotivated as they feel their opinion doesn’t matter.
Some companies have recognized the importance of keeping their employees happy for the success of the company, and have set up “open door” policies where employees can — in theory — go and sit with their bosses and human resources and have an open ‘heart to heart’ conversation.
But often what happens is that the boss will most likely be ‘too busy’ to really sit with anyone.
“Busy” is the unfortunate mantra of this era, with people sleeping less, meeting less in person and working harder to keep up with today’s demanding lifestyles or at least perceptions of what the best life should be.
And even when somebody has managed to catch their boss, there isn’t much time for a real two-way dialogue between the two parties as each is probably already stressed, as well as being confident they are right in their stance and can’t really see it from the other person’s perspective.
What can really help these ‘1-on-1s’ is a distraction-free conversation, one filled with the right mind-set where both participants remain open-minded with an open heart. It may sound sappy, but we can all sense when someone is truly listening and cares.
And what if the boss doesn’t really care? Well then, that is when the art of conversation comes into play and those in the conversation at least feign interest and set goals at the end of each discussion.
There’s an onus on bosses who are real leaders to create a work environment where people feel free and flexible enough to speak up and share their ideas. Then managers should receptively listen, affirm, channel, and guide those ideas.
In his 1936 book, Art of Conversation, Milton Wright writes how the ability to talk well can be cultivated, and the “interest you must have” if a conversation is to be successful.
Memorably, he wrote: “To chatter is easy. To talk resultfully with the hostile, suspicious, indifferent or even friendly is an art.”
Another crucial factor to ensure proper, constructive workplace conversations is: put away the smartphone.
A 2014 study on the impact of mobile phones on conversations, concluded that the “mere presence” of a smartphone, even on the table, reduced the quality of a conversation.
While in the absence of mobile communication technologies, “conversations were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of a mobile device.”
In other words, please be mindful to put away the smartphones where they can’t be seen, felt or heard when meeting someone face to face. Usually, nothing is ever that urgent that it can’t wait until the end of a conversation.
There is no denying that the digital age has transformed how people communicate, making communication overall more immediate yet impersonal.
This need to always be ‘connected’ and instantly responsive has taken over the professional world, with work-related digital chat rooms leading employees to feel the pressure to respond immediately to say a supervisor, especially if seen “online” on that particular platform. It is an endless loop of connectivity and dis-connectivity from the real world.
From deciphering what a message means, or what the “tone” of a message is and so many technical issues that occur online, digital conversations honestly need their own set of dictionaries and guide books just to be understood.
That is why opting for more face to face conversations, even if for short regularly scheduled time, is better than any serious digital conversation.
Face to face conversations are memorable, multi-sensory and multi-layered and are just simply more pleasant and real than anything digital.
The touch, the empathy, and the energy felt in the presence of a deep conversation can’t be recreated via a flat-screen and headshot virtual talks.
Perhaps one day these “options” will be possible to replicate via a virtual conversation, but until then, opt for human interactions for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your team.
Why are conversations important? and why do people like to meet over a cup of coffee or any hot or cold brew?
Ultimately because it is a chance to feel one’s existence matters, that one’s views are heard, even if not acted upon.
We all want to be acknowledged on some level, and sometimes just a nod of your head and genuine eye-contact as you talk is enough to make someone’s day.
Something small, but big enough to create a memory of how you made them feel.