The Art of (Business) Conversation

Posted Apr 2, 2015

It begins with acceptance and excitement. I cannot believe I was asked but I accept eagerly.

I’m engaged!

The big day arrives with feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability, followed closely by increasing stress and one or two robust arguments. No I didn’t get married, I started a new job.

The engagement was all too brief and this odd couple of employer and employee waits impatiently outside the marriage counsellor’s office. I’m not sure we  can save this! Once purposeful and motivated, time has transformed me into  an uninspired and disenchanted zombie. What am I doing here?

Over dramatic perhaps, but not a unique story. Gallup’s annual employee engagement survey shows  the percentage of employees either not engaged or actively disengaged in the workplace is still fluctuating around 70%, and has done so for at least 15 years.  

It is no secret that employee engagement is a significant factor in determining company performance. People emotionally checked-in  produce more leading to customer satisfaction improvements, greater sales opportunities and elevated profits.   

 It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”  Jack Welch

What is baffling is that organizations know this yet engagement levels have remained effectively static since 2000! Company leaders  communicate objectives,  invest in platforms, apply metrics and extol their bottom-up cultural philosophy.  However, something more effective is required and this could be as simple as how we talk to each other. It might not be what we are saying, but how we are saying it.

  “A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That's why there are so few good conversations.”  Truman Capote

The art of conversation  has been swallowed up by a technology avalanche of ubiquitous ‘must never be’ disconnected devices and social media soapboxes. Society is high on self-promotion with diminishing time to talk. And when time is found , we probably just send an email.

Our conversational engagements in the office have lost the confidence, familiarity and affinity we should be sharing with our leaders, colleagues and people – It is time to strengthen the spoken word and establish a more  professional intimacy with our co-workers.

We should be asking ourselves these types of questions?

Have we created an environment which stimulates engaging  and creative dialogue?

What is the communication load balance – does the organization lean too heavy on download and neglect upload from its people?

Do we listen or do we listen AND act?

When did I last take time to simply find out something new about someone in the office?

And then you maybe asking….

Why do people work for this company?

Leaders, go have conversations and spark a cultural leap.  Hit  the off switch, close the laptop and let that draft email auto-save itself.  Talk with people - not managers, employees, subordinates or staff members  - people!  Show your non-work side, share personal thoughts, tell them what keeps you up at night, display some vulnerability.  Ask them if they would share similar thoughts with you.

Be human. Start talking.

Imagine what you might learn?

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”  Yogi Berra