The standard interpretation of the workplace has drastically changed over the past few years. With the rise of work-from-home options and hybrid work weeks, the workplace has become a place where employees can construct spaces for individual growth and reflection, often mixing the professional with the personal.
Employees are a crucial part of any company’s success. Whether it’s reaching daily goals, maintaining customer loyalty, or upholding the company’s image, employees are companies’ backbones. Although companies are putting their part by investing in customer care and tools to help bridge the employee-boss relationship, most fail to incorporate the most important tool we all have within us: prioritizing internal communication and managing crucial conversations.
Communication in the workplace is essential to keep an organization on its feet. As someone who has worked in multiple professional settings, I know that it can be hard to communicate or begin conversations with our co-workers and managers simply to keep a professional profile. As humans, we tend to gravitate towards communication and conversations to feel connected, understood, and appreciated. Without having a safe environment to express our concerns, how can we assure ourselves that our value is being seen?
Our work environments have conditioned us to believe that the only value in the workplace comes from external success. Simon Sinek expressed in a TED Talk that the key variable towards the success of an organization lies within leaders’ ability to make employees feel safe. Simon Sinek details that leaders should not just focus on numbers, but people’s psychological safety as well.
It’s easy for companies to stray into external forms of communication. External communication, which focuses solely on quantitative progress as the key determinant of success, is often the easy route. Internal communications, on the other hand, focuses on the value of employee relationships.
Without a clear path towards internal communication, how would employees feel safe to express concerns or frustrations professionally to their supervisors and co-workers? It’s leaders’ responsibility to establish psychological safety within their teams. Leadership is so much more than a rank or title. It’s a lifestyle that generates long-term effects in any setting.
Luckily, there are many tools that companies, employees, and professionals can start implementing within their teams to make the workplace more fun and enjoyable for all. The key to mastering internal relationships is through serious communication and allowing everyone to express their concerns and thoughts in a safe environment. And that is where crucial conversations come to play.
The Importance of Crucial Conversations in Building Psychological Safety
Whether you’ve experienced it or not, we’ve all had to have crucial conversations at some point in our lives. Crucial conversations can happen between an employee and their boss, friends, family members, teachers, athletes and their coaches, and many more.
These conversations aim to embrace issues and use healthier ways to understand and mitigate any given situation in any professional or personal setting. Although these conversations are structured to deal with personal situations, the skills and breakthroughs that come with these conversations can be essential in building bonds, trust, and reliability. In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Swizler emphasize the importance of structuring positive conversation techniques in hopes of finding shared meaning and common ground.
Crucial conversations often contain three main characteristics: opposing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions. From experience, we’ve all had to deal with some sort of situation that inhibits these three crucial points in any conversation.
These characteristics allow us to assess the direction we want to take the conversation in. The authors of Crucial Conversations have modeled six unique steps that highlight the success of conversations. They are as follows.
1. Start With the Heart
The heart harbors all the emotions we feel. It allows us to become vulnerable in any given situation. There needs to be an environment where respect is held high and all emotions are seen, heard, and validated. By digging into our hearts and uncovering real and truthful emotions, we can explore dynamic changes in the conversation.
Conversations in the workplace tend to look at issues in a strictly professional manner. Although there is nothing wrong with a professional approach, speaking from the heart often involves a more personal approach. If the workplace environment penalizes vulnerability, it can be challenging to express emotions, thoughts, and concerns considered private.
2. Stay in Dialogue
Staying in dialogue allows us to stay on track and not let our emotions get the better of us. It is essential to consider upholding respect between each party involved as these conversations can hold high stakes. A good rule of thumb to stay in dialogue is to focus on the relationship rather than the position held by each party. That way, the focus is on solving the problem while keeping the relationship strong.
3. Create a Shared Pool of Meaning
The purpose of crucial conversations relies on understanding why and how a situation started. Creating a shared pool of meaning allows both parties to reflect, respect, and validate all emotions, actions, and events present. Although we might not agree on some areas, it’s important to hear and understand how those feelings influence communication. The authors use this flow chart to simplify the road towards shared meaning:
4. Make it Safe
Safety is crucial in establishing a successful bond of communication. Ensuring that you provide a safe environment for your employees and co-workers to feel comfortable speaking out reassures your commitment to safety leadership.
Building psychological safety within the workplace is more than just providing a safe atmosphere. It’s about letting your employees build a culture of trust and open communication. Accountability between both parties is also a key element in having a safe and open dialogue.
5. Don’t Get Hooked or Hook Others by Emotion
As humans, our emotions can overpower our actions. While acknowledging our feelings is a valid action taken in crucial conversations, they shouldn’t completely influence our decisions or any outcomes. Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge website explores the option of building a plan of action that uses different elements of dialogue. These elements include emotions, feedback, and data to create a systemic plan that works to realign the company, its work culture, and values.
6. Agree on an Action Plan
A call to action ensures that both parties have agreed to move on further to help establish a meaningful solution to the situation spoken about. This action plan often includes a mutual purpose where each person, group, or affiliate agrees to move forward with a goal in mind. These plans also include strategies and skills that can be practiced to avoid any future conflicts from happening.
Crucial Conversations in the Future
As we continue to move into in-person activities, we must acknowledge the physical impact conversations have in our daily lives. For some, face-to-face conversations hold a unique power that cannot transcend through a screen. Being physically present in any kind of setting allows us to immediately let our curiosity run and begin to seek the valuable connections we once had. Having the ability to hold meaningful conversations is only the beginning towards establishing a comfortable environment anywhere.
The steps outlined above provide a guideline on how to manage crucial conversations. It may seem as if they are structured to be only practiced in the workplace, but they can also reflect conversations we have with people in our personal lives. Practicing crucial conversations with our friends, family, and peers is a way to appreciate the value and meaning behind someone’s thoughts, perceptions, and knowledge.
Crucial conversations are just one of many tools people can use to establish a better grasp of healthy communication. It is also worth noting that creating tools for better communication is not easy! Mastering communication is all about trial and error and becoming comfortable with change.
As we begin to move forward with our lives in a professional or personal setting, knowing how to communicate and engage in shared meaning with others will become more than just a workplace practice, but a lifestyle worth living.