Conversation Chaos: The Hidden Villain in Your Workplace

"Sometimes a dramatic intervention is required to stop the words in order to start a conversation." —Susan Scott

There's a villain in your organization. It's a Darth Vader, Wicked Witch, Sauron, or Lord Voldemort—and it's the reason why many of your most common workplace problems persist, including disengagement and poor performance.

All issues in your organization have one thing in common: conversation chaos. Unproductive, unfocused, and ineffective communication is the sneaky villain hijacking your business.

The Cost of Chaos

As conversation experts with over 16 years of experience working with organizations of all sizes, we know how costly poor-quality conversations can be. All results produced, whether wanted or unwanted, are determined by the quality of conversations taking place in your organization. When you know how to have these conversations effectively, you have the power to change the entire trajectory of your relationships, your organization, and your life.

Conversation chaos has a cultural and monetary impact. It will lower morale, corrode relationships, and—one failed conversation at a time—chip away at business earnings.

When conversation chaos is in your midst, here's what you'll see:

  • Employee disengagement
  • Less innovation and creativity
  • Increased turnover
  • Poor time management
  • Decreased revenue
  • Increased fear
  • Lower client satisfaction
  • Slower execution
  • Difficulties managing change
  • Lack of clarity
  • Strained relationships
  • Decreased productivity
  • Decline in the bottom line

The following data illustrates just how damaging conversation chaos can be:

  • A 2014 survey from found the top three reasons why people do not like their jobs (62% of responses) were communication-related.
  • Infogram reports that organizations with poor communication practices see 17% higher turnover, 18% higher sick leave, and 40% higher rate of customer complaints.
  • IT Cortex reports 57% of business projects fail because of breakdowns in communication.

If you find these numbers as alarming as we do, read on.

How Conversation Chaos Shows Up

"Why are we having these issues?!"

The culprit is conversation chaos. These kinds of conversations are characterized by their inability to get the most essential balls rolling. They waste time and money. They are occurring in place of the effective conversations you need to be having to achieve results.

Here are some ways conversation chaos is sneaking into your organization:

1. Distractions

"I'm too busy to chat."

You may be overlooking conversation and bumping it down on the priority list. While there's a time for heads-down work, putting off conversations with excuses like "I'm too busy" or "I have other things going on" is a common business mistake that needs to change. Distractions may also involve using your cell phone during a face-to-face conversation or working on a project instead of focusing on the agenda during a meeting. If you want a cohesive, healthy workplace culture, you've got to be prepared to be "here" and nowhere else.

In order to squash a culture of fear and build a culture of trust and clarity, it's essential for regular, ongoing communication to take place across all levels of an organization. Be transparent, provide and request feedback regularly, and pay attention to your emotions—if something is bothering you, it's probably time to have an important conversation.

2. Lack of Preparation

"What the heck are we talking about?!"

One surefire way to create a messy conversation is lack of preparation. When entering an important conversation, how well you've prepared is going to have a significant effect on the outcome. Without it, our nerves may get the best of us, we may veer off topic, or we may say something we wish we could take back. When employees and management take time out of their day to have a conversation, these conversations need to be productive and contribute to the overall objectives of the organization, including cultural initiatives and bigger overarching goals such as revenue or sales quotas—not only does a lack of preparation cause confusion, frustration, and even boredom, it also wastes everyone's time.

Aside from skills training, one of the best ways to prepare for a conversation is to get clear about your intention and name the issue for yourself—this saves time and reduces the likelihood of miscommunication. What are you hoping to address, and what is your ideal outcome?

3. Lack of Know-how/Skills

"I don't know how to say this, but…"

There's no greater creator of conversation chaos than lack of conversation know-how. Without skills training, conversations can be sloppy, fail to move the needle, and even damage our relationships. Like any other skill, learning and practice are required if we want to make the greatest impact. Anyone can have a conversation, but not having a framework or language that provides the how can result in unnecessary issues, such as misunderstandings and conflicts, that proper training can prevent. It's important to know how provide feedback in a way that allows employees to be receptive and feel comfortable providing feedback to leadership. It's important to know how to navigate change and have tough confrontations when difficulties arise. We believe no skillset is more valuable.

Combat this skills problem by prioritizing the quality and frequency of conversations taking place in your organization—you can't afford not to! The best thing an organization can do is equip its leaders with the skills necessary to have effective conversations that get results.

4. Avoidance

"I'd rather not talk about it."

Sometimes conversation chaos can show up as no conversation at all when a conversation is desperately needed. Frequency of communication is as important as its quality. If conversations aren't happening, the results can be catastrophic. Aside from its brutal business impact, relationships suffer in this kind of environment. It can produce feelings of isolation, confusion, separation, and alienation. When employees observe leadership talking behind closed doors to each other, but not to individual contributors or the company as a whole, it negatively impacts morale by decreasing a sense of trust. Likewise, when leaders and various departments are functioning as lone wolves or in silos without ongoing communication to bridge them, it destroys a sense of cohesion and unity within the organization.

You can't afford avoidance. It's important for leadership to disclose business information in a time-sensitive manner, for employees to feel safe and comfortable expressing their perspectives, and for the lines of communication to be open between teams, leaders, and C-suite. If you're avoiding conversation, ask yourself what's at stake if you continue to avoid it. Chances are, much is at stake!

5. Miscommunication

"But I thought you meant…"

Miscommunication occurs when there's an absence of clarity around expectations, roles, responsibilities, and projects. Due to miscommunication, businesses with 10,000 employees are each losing $6.2 million annually on average, according to a study from IDC. Miscommunication can be reduced with effective delegation, team, and feedback conversations. Our recent eBook on miscommunication in partnership with Quantum Workplace revealed that miscommunication has a direct and significant impact on employee engagement. The more high-quality conversations are happening, the more engaged everyone is. Higher engagement means happier employees and better performance.

While it's important for leadership to reduce and resolve miscommunication that's taking place within teams and across the organization, everyone can contribute to creating clarity. Begin eliminating miscommunication today by checking your assumptions and asking clarifying questions. If you don't receive clear answers, ask, ask, and ask again. Seek clarification until everyone is on the same page.

6. Pretending Not to Know

"I don't see any issue here."

In Fierce training, we bring attention to what's called a "mokita"—a Papua New Guinean term for unspoken issues, commonly known as the elephant in the room. When these issues are ignored, it comes with a huge cost to you, your team, and your company. Knowing how to identify, communicate, and work through these mokitas head-on has the potential to change the entire trajectory of your organization for the better by knowing what exactly needs to be talked about, and what's at stake if it's ignored.

Mokitas can be nerve-wracking to bring up. It may require you to go against the status quo, or directly disagree with a powerful person in your organization. It can be easier to be agreeable or pretend to see nothing, but it's important to ask yourself for the sake of your organization and your own integrity: what are you pretending not to know? Bring the issue to light and have the conversation. Problems can't be solved until we muster up the courage to expose them.

How to Begin Defeating Conversation Chaos

"Where do we even start?!"

Are any of the above scenarios familiar?

You can defeat conversation chaos by learning how to have conversations that are fierce. Everyone within an organization plays a role in either creating or defeating conversation chaos. Awareness is the first step. Focus efforts on developing the necessary conversation skills to overcome the greatest challenges your organization is facing.

How Will We Know Our Conversations Are Successful?

"Am I doing this right?!"

The results will show, both emotionally and in the measurable results your organization is producing. It shows when a conversation leads to a better relationship with your team or a colleague. It shows on the level of business when your bottom line increases and individual, department, and company goals are achieved.

It's time to defeat the villain. Out-smart conversation chaos with Fierce Conversations. Wherever your organization is headed, the quality of your conversations will make it or break it.

For actionable solutions and more insight on the conversations you need to be having, download our whitepaper on the ROI of skillful conversation here.

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