I have the awesome role of observing people in all kinds of roles in the workplace. I sit in on meetings, conference calls, one-on-ones, executive meetings, board meetings, planning sessions, lunches and dinners in dozens of companies from all industries and sizes. In all these day to day time-consuming activities, conversations are universal. One person or more is sharing their perspective on a business matter. Styles are very different but the substance of all them is essential the same. They are mostly transactional, as required in many cases, which is a great disguise for communicating either the real thoughts/emotions or being vulnerable. This is a shame because little progress is often made and decisions take much longer. More importantly, the great passionate and innovative solutions are suppressed. I share these observation often and they are met with the question “so how should we be talking?”
It is too late to redesign business conversations at these type of events. The real magic needs to happen in the much more frequent in-between time of formal meetings. There is no reason why these too have to be transactional and not meaningful. We do not have these kinds of conversations with our family and friends so why should we have them at work? So rare are they in the workplace, I might argue, that having them is actually one of the best gifts leaders can give employees. I understand it can be challenging to orchestrate meaningful conversations company-wide but that’s not what I’m suggesting. There are probably less than the same ten people that most people at work have 80% of their conversations with. With these folks, having more real conversations that allow for vulnerability, and compassion, can make all the difference when it comes time to go into those formal pressure-packed meetings. The risks are nominal with the rewards enormous. The naivete of the concept should not be reason to discount its power in relationships and business conversations.
This week, think of conversations you have with your good friends over weekends or social life. Find elements/topics that you find fulfilling in them. Take those to the workplace and invest in just one or two over the next few days. It can start with simply: ‘I just want to get to know you better so we can help each other be successful here.’ You will find yourself driving happier after work with just one of these a day. And being much more productive.