If important conversations are not succeeding or not happening in your organization, it's costing you more than you might realize.
Our 2017 Fierce eBook in partnership with Quantum Workplace captured perceptions on workplace miscommunication and found that approximately 50% of employees rated their conversations as less than great. If miscommunication is occurring half the time, it's leading to losses in revenue.
In her article "Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money," Debra Hamilton reported that miscommunication costs small companies of 100 employees an average of $450,000 per year. In a 1,000-person company, that's a loss of over $4 million a year.
You may think your organization is making an effort to have important conversations, but how they're being had can make all the difference in whether they're successful. When they don't succeed, it can have a negative impact on engagement, performance, and profit.
In our recent eBook 5 Conversations You Need to Start Having Today, we pinpointed the five critical conversation types that need to be taking place in your organization:
1. Team – to turn your team meetings into dynamic think tanks
2. Feedback – to make course corrections on a daily basis—not an annual one
3. Confrontation – to address the issues you've been avoiding
4. Coaching – to dig deep and move from advice-giving to self-actualization
5. Delegation – to provide growth opportunities while increasing accountability
If you haven't read the eBook yet, download it here.
In the 15-plus years that we've been training people how to talk about what matters, we've identified some common traps associated with each of these conversations types that could be preventing you from having these conversations or causing them to be ineffective when they do happen.
Let's take a look at these traps and some easy antidotes to cure what's ailing your workplace conversations.
The illusion of inclusion trap: Too often, leaders play the role by going through the motions. They hold meetings to collaborate and gather input, yet their team is painfully aware that the input isn't actually being considered in the decision-making process. Instead, leadership is simply looking for agreement or had already made their decision prior to the meeting. When this is the case, engagement tanks. No matter how convincing you may think these meetings are, people will spot the "illusion of inclusion" from miles away.
The consensus trap: While it's necessary to fully take different perspectives into consideration and avoid "the illusion of inclusion," at the end of the day, the decision is in the leader's hands. Your team members may be pointing in different directions, but you'll have to decide which direction will be the most beneficial for the team and your organization. Consensus is not an essential precursor to deciding—call the final shot in order to end lingering disagreements and keep with predetermined timelines.
The antidote: In a team conversation, take other perspectives into consideration during the decision-making process. Genuine inclusion strengthens workplace culture when employees receive the message that their voice is valued. It also strengthens trust and a sense of psychological safety, leading to less hesitation when it comes to sharing true thoughts and feelings.
The constructive vs. positive feedback trap: The idea that some feedback is positive while some feedback is constructive is a misunderstanding. All feedback should be constructive and have a positive intention.
The annual review trap: Whether your formal reviews are yearly, bi-yearly, or quarterly, one thing is for certain: there's a lot of time in-between these reviews, and the reality is that every day provides opportunities to give and ask for feedback. When we wait until formal review time to give it, we'll miss out on in-the-moment opportunities to strengthen relationships and improve performance. Feedback lets us know where we stand and helps us see what we may not see.
The antidote: While formal reviews can be productive, it's important to make feedback an ongoing conversation where we communicate our thoughts and feelings in the moment. An important tip to keep in mind before giving feedback is to consider your intention—how can the information you have to share aid in the other person's growth, and what would be the ideal outcome?
The denial trap: Have you ever attempted to confront someone and they immediately went to a place of denial? Or, have you done this yourself when you were confronted? "That's not true, I didn't do that!" We often feel justified in the denial, but the reality is that if we're being confronted, an impact has occurred that needs to be addressed—even if the impact, from our own perspective, doesn't match our original intention. The confrontation provides an opportunity to iron out misunderstandings and/or adjust our behavior if the situation calls for it.
The sandwich and pillow traps: Confrontation is challenging for most. It can cause us to feel anxiety, fear, and doubt. This is why it's easy to fall into a trap of either sandwiching the issue between two compliments or sprinkling the conversation with too many pillows, sometimes referred to as "niceties." The problem with this is that it muddles our message and lessens the likelihood that the issue will be resolved.
The antidote: When confronting or being confronted, listen to what's being communicated and keep in mind that all confrontation is a search for the truth. Acknowledge the issue, work together to find a resolution, and save other topics for another conversation.
The all head, no heart trap: Hate to break it to you, but increasing an organization's "smarts" by 25% will not translate into revenue growth of 25% if employees are not engaged at the heart level. Effective coaching won't just address logistics—it will align behaviors with values and tap into emotions that can then translate into positive action.
The advice-giving trap: Coach as advice giver is a common coaching trap. While giving advice is often well-intentioned, it prevents the coachee from discovering their own self-generated, intrinsic insights. Taking action on a self-generated insight will inevitably be more meaningful and inspired than if we act on someone else's insight.
The antidote: When coaching, make it a priority to dive below the surface. Ask questions such as, "What's going on? What are the implication if nothing changes?" The intent should be to uncover the issue and coachee's needs, and work with them to determine what steps could be helpful in moving them toward personal and professional fulfillment.
The authority misconception trap: You may associate the term "delegate" with telling others what to do. On the contrary, skillful, effective delegation can actually give employees more autonomy and authority to make decisions, reducing micromanagement on behalf of leadership and leaving employees with a greater sense of empowerment by increasing their sense of ownership.
The dele-dumping trap: For many organizations, delegation means to get rid of a task you currently own or don't want as fast as possible. This weighs on morale, and no one wants to be "dumped" on when they already have X amount of responsibilities on their plate.
The antidote: Reflect on your current responsibilities and highlight three that are no longer the best use of your time. Discuss individual employee goals and determine which tasks or responsibilities would help support the ways they want to develop. Start to have the conversations about shifting those to someone else in order to free up your time for new things while also helping yourself, your team, and your organization grow.
Conversation can be messy and there are many more traps that can occur than what's listed here, but the more you prepare and practice, the more effective your conversations will be. Applying the antidotes above to the important conversations happening in your organization will help prevent both the relational, cultural, and monetary losses that happen when conversations go awry.
If you've identified pillows and sandwiches in your feedback or confrontation conversations, check out our upcoming webinar: LET'S TALK - 3 FIERCE LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS TO TRANSFORM A CULTURE OF "NICE" INTO ONE OF RESULTS. Register here.