The power of a 'real life' conversation in the workplace

Today, we’re bombarded with so much tech based communication at work that we’re forgetting how to have effective ‘real life ‘conversations. This is having a huge impact on relationship building in the workplace.

Communication is critical in every relationship, personal or professional. But we’ve stopped talking. We email, text, WhatsApp, send messages via apps like Slack and well as ‘liking’ and ‘commenting’ on social media.  But sadly, we’ve stopped actually talking and the art of conversation is dying.

In business, this is having a massive impact on the relationships employees and management hold and creating a plethora of unnecessary issues that could easily be remedied if we stopped hiding behind technology and using it to do the talking for us.

As a Business Mentor, with over 30 years’ client services experience, when I broach this with clients, I am often told emailing or communicating in written form “is easier”, “it creates a paper trail” or “it’s just what everybody does.” But if we communicated more personably by talking to one another face-to-face, efficiency would drastically improve.  

You can cover off in one five minute conversation, something that may take ten long emails back and forth to nail. Having something in writing, however, is very important so write one email confirming the conversation you have just had in your discussion. If efficiency improved, it would make everybody’s roles easier and would help build trust in those relationships. This doesn’t mean nothing will ever go wrong, but it does mean you have built a rapport with someone who you can then talk to.

Whether the relationship is internal or external, between a manager and junior team member, peer-to-peer or between any other stakeholders within the organisation, without verbal communication, there exists only a very surface level transactional relationship. This type of relationship simply cannot deliver the best results for any business.

Our heavy reliance on tech-based communications ‘solutions’ removes so many fundamental factors that form ‘good communication’. We can no longer see sincerity, properly interpret tonality, convey emotion or show empathy. It creates a closeted façade that fuels anxiety both inside and outside of the workplace. Comments get misunderstood and we lose the associated feeling - all the things that are a necessary foundation for strong and positive relationships.

Being able to see body language, hear tone and actually listen is essential in the workplace. I mentored a tech assistant at one organisation who was struggling with interdepartmental relationships. He and a creative director in a different team never spoke despite being sat just across the office from each other and needing to communicate to efficiently do their jobs. Putting the two of them in the same room to talk things through was a revelation to them both. The biggest issue was the tech assistant felt uncomfortable speaking with a very senior member of staff (he didn’t know how to speak to him) and the director ordinarily only spoke with the head of tech about any issues. Although problems were always solved the lack of direct communication left  the tech assistant feeling anxious and vulnerable. This changed the minute they started a conversation and the director is now an internal mentor to the tech assistant – they are talking, and now have a great working relationship!

It’s easy for most of us to understand why the ‘highlights reel’ of Instagram might add pressure to young people trying to fit in and striving for a ‘perfect’ life. But we struggle so much more to apply that same theory to communication in the workplace; this is why not communicating by actually talking can create unnecessary pressure, worries and concern across all levels of an organisation.

Fifteen years ago, it was common for me to hear from clients that organisations were too reliant on meetings; “let’s have a meeting about organising a meeting” was a frequent eye-roller. This still applies today but now it’s more about how people don’t communicate properly in those meetings and how nothing really gets resolved because people do not know how to convey a problem and find a solution.

I hear about the failures in communication because people aren’t having a conversation and they hide behind technology. Their ‘relationships’ are all built over email or some other platform that replaces actually talking to one another. And the art of conversation is thus being lost and being able to show empathy for someone in the workplace is sadly missing.

Social and tech-based communications inevitably have their place in most modern organisations, but they must come as support functions to actual relationships, which are built through real, good old fashioned, transparent conversation. So, let’s take the time and get talking to each other – it will pay dividends to your business and your career.