When I ask managers, “How often do you speak with your staff?” most will usually reply with “Every day! Or, at least every other day or so.”
However, if I ask their staff the same question, “How often do you speak with your manager?” the answer is very different.
They will usually say something like, “Well, let me think…” and get that look on their face people get when trying to remember something that happened a while back. Often, (way more often than I’d like to hear it), they’ll follow up with, “Um, does my last performance review count?”
Neither person is lying to me, and they aren’t intentionally trying to gloss things over. So why the difference?
All conversations are not created equal.
To the manager, “speaking with” someone is saying anything at all: It’s communicating something, and that includes one-way communication – like the stuff they’ll broadcast to a group in a pre-shift meeting. To most managers, “speaking with” is as simple as their daily greeting walking through a workplace.
“Speaking with” is quite different to their staff. It’s one-on-one for sure, and it’s two-way communication where they get the chance to say something too. It’s input. It’s discussion. Conversation means conversing — as it should! Agreement and consensus isn’t necessary, but both people feel they got their chance to speak up about something, and they feel they were heard.
The difference is important. Bridging the difference between the two is where the manager-employee relationship becomes healthy enough so a true workplace partnership is formed, then strongly forged over time to mutual benefit.
If you are an Alaka‘i Manager, or aspiring to be one, your goal must be conversational staff relationships where whomever I ask will respond, “We speak with each other all the time. Not every day, but whenever we need to, for sure. He (or she) is there for me.”
Here’s how to make that happen.
Alaka‘i Managers will:
- Constantly work on their approachability, so their staff feels a Circle of Comfort exists between them, a circle they can immediately step into — not only when the mood or timing is right. Healthy workplaces can handle the volatility that may come with the territory in that pressure cooker called ‘a business‘ — they handle it with strong coworker relationships.
- Make space for deeper and more creative conversations to happen. ‘Deeper’ as in where the rest of the world essentially melts away, and there is true focus on the issue at hand. ‘Creative’ as in idea generation, and for “What if?” questioning and proposition. To “make space” for others, managers must get their own act together. They can’t be forever working reactively and in catch-up mode. (Get more help via the Key 4 Archives: The Role of the Manager Reconstructed.)
- Capitalize on, and optimize conversation. Great managers will work at getting better at talking story, and at conversation that becomes the easy, practical, relevant, and meaningful tool it can be. They will foster collaborative work by means of conversation, and seek more mutual agreement, working on the quality of each and every conversation they have. Every single one.
- Use conversations for lifelong learning. This is what The Daily 5 Minutes in Managing with Aloha is all about — learning from other people who have much to teach you, and give to you. When I bring D5M to a workplace culture via a workshop or my coaching work, 1., 2., and 3. on this list must happen first, or at the same time if they are to truly be successful with it.
- Foster a workplace culture where conversation, water-cooler small talk, and talking story is considered the good stuff included in work. This is not just about the manager: Your staff will need to forge conversational relationships amongst each other too. The Alaka‘i Manager encourages these conversations in the way work actually gets done, and gets done better. Going even further on this one, Alaka‘i Managers will not tolerate the exclusionary behaviors that can create silos.
Don’t fall prey to giving mixed messages on these. For instance, there is no arm-crossing in a Circle of Comfort, and body language is important. When you converse, look up from whatever else you were doing, and make eye contact — ignore your phone!
Consider number 5: When you see people huddled together, step into their circle if you feel you must, and participate in the conversation. Don’t assume they were goofing off, and simply throw out something like, “Okay, okay, that’s enough. Get back to work.” Give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were working!
[Review the Basic Human Rights from the standpoint of an employee here.]
One of the best things about good, filled-with-ALOHA conversations is that they make work easier. They certainly make it better.
Archive Aloha ~ Related articles if you missed them:
- Speak up, I’m listening.
- Anything and Everything to Talk About (About Conversational Customer Service).
- Managing: Learn how to ask “Why?”
- Tear Down Your Walls
- The Acid Test of a Healthy Workplace Culture
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