An organization is a community. In today’s people-based economy, the human value connection within an organization determines the health of the organization. We do our work through conversation, and every conversation reflects the health of the organization. “The quality of conversations within an organization reflects the quality of that organization” notes Dr. Nancy Love (www.pulseinstitute.com).
Gallup’s Employee Engagement Index indicates that engaged employees report the best health. In fact, a self-reported survey done in November and December 2010 reflects that workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace are about as likely as the unemployed to report they are in excellent health – only 2 out of 10 of these actively disengaged workers rate their overall health as excellent. (http://tinyurl.com/65kbym9)
But what happens when emotions are elevated? When we are facing potential embarrassment or are under threat? When we are threatened with looking bad, we enter what William Noonan calls a “defensive routine”. With our underlying values under threat, we perceive ourselves as acting sensibly and upholding values of integrity and prudence, but we may not believe that others share those values. We have an emotional reaction to something that is said, and we lash out, or react, governed by our fight or flight instinct. Our reaction begets a trigger in the other party, and they in turn react. We find ourselves cycling away from the relationship, into a downward spiral of retaliation. Our conversations suffer, communication breaks down, and as stress elevates, our health may suffer as well.
Notice what happens when Dean approaches his employee Melinda with some concerns:
Dean: I have been really happy about your work – it is timely and accurate, and I think you are a real asset to this team Melinda. But I would like to talk with you about your relationship with the others on the team. Some things have come up.
Melinda: What? What sort of things? What is it about?
Dean: Well, I’d like to be very honest with you. Some members of the team think that you are interfering with their work and publically coming down on them about their performance.
Melinda: Are you serious? I have never, ever publically come down on anyone! Sometimes when I finish a project early, I offer help, but that isn’t exactly welcomed. And once, when Jim seemed to be stuck with something I stopped to talk to him about it, but he pretty much told me to mind my own business. To be honest, I am not sure I fit in well here. They are always phoning in to answer those radio show quizzes and talking about the latest hockey pool. I don’t think there is a lot of work going on here. Two people could do the work of those three! They are just hanging around waiting for retirement.
The conversation spirals out of control and emotions run high. As Melinda’s emotions elevate, Dean reacts as well. He may respond to Melinda’s retort with a “Yeah, but we have experienced a lot of growth in these past few months and…” defending his management choices. Once the downward spiral has begun, parties may need to step away and regroup, ensuring blood returns the brain, before they re-engage in the conversation.
A deliberate approach to the conversation prevents the need to do damage control, and results in a healthier more successful community at work.
- Eliminate your “buts.”
I have been really happy with your work – it is both timely and accurate.
- Choose a neutral and specific title for your conversation.
I’d like to chat with you about your role on the team.
- Start with a question. Listen to their story first.
How have things been going for you working on this team?
- Summarize their comments, and provide evidence that you have been listening.
So it sounds like you have some concerns about how you are all working together and about how well you have been fitting in.
- Make your points firmly. State them gently, so people can keep on listening; be honest, be open to what they have to say; and be specific. Take the opportunity to talk it out.
I have some concerns about the teamwork as well. I have noticed in our last few meetings you have been very quiet in the discussions. I am concerned about how the team is collaborating lately and whether we are making the most of everyone’s expertise. It is important to me that everyone on the team has input, as each member has something unique to contribute.
Managers who strive to deliberately structure their conversations will enhance a culture of openness and respect within their workplace community. These small changes with big impact will result in a healthier organization and a healthier and more engaged workforce.