Conversations the key to engagement and productivity
Every interaction with a team member can potentially build engagement and productivity - provided managers have sound conversational skills, says communication expert Dr Hilary Armstrong.
Effective conversationsAccording to Armstrong, an effective conversation "is one in which there's a feeling of openness; an open flow of meaning between people, in other words".
Empathy is vital, she adds. Managers need to be able to pick up on other people's emotions and demonstrate "mental flexibility - the ability to put one's self in the other's shoes".
But they also need to understand that the way they deliver a message is just as - if not more - important than the words they say, because the brain picks up non-verbal signals of threat and reward very quickly.
"[The way we converse] is a lot more important than we recognise," Armstrong says, noting that research has found people who receive positive feedback in a critical way show higher stress levels than those who are delivered negative feedback in a constructive way.
This is particularly important during "confronting conversations", which require a high level of empathy, self-awareness and emotional self control.
"We need to have self awareness to be familiar with our assumptions, and how we frame and hear others' viewpoints, because if we're jumping to conclusions - if we come into the relationship thinking we're not going to listen to this person or we don't like that person - that is what's going to happen."
These conversations are a skill that can be learned, but Armstrong recommends "preparation and lots of practise".
In practiceLeaders should use different types of conversations for various workplace situations, Armstrong says.
"If you're a leader wanting to inspire others, you should be using the conversational practices of story telling, because we know that the art of telling a story is a way to draw people together and mobilise them," she says by way of example.
Story telling is also useful in mentoring situations, "because the one thing that mentors have to learn is to personalise their stories of experience and share those stories in a way that's helpful to the other person, rather than just telling abstract 'war stories'".
Giving feedback, however, requires a different approach. "The way to give feedback is to invite the other person to join in. If you've observed them doing something in the workplace, first ask them how they think they went, so that they can be part of the conversation, and then ask permission to add your thoughts before asking them to respond again.
"This doesn't make it all soft and warm and fuzzy, because of course when you do give your response you need to be authentic and clear and remember the principles above. Tough love is the thing; it's how you deliver something rather than what you deliver."
Armstrong provides the following tips for improving the quality of workplace conversations:
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