Why Managers Need to Learn the Art of Conversations
What does a manager do? A manager, according to the Business Dictionary, “is an individual who is in charge of a certain group of tasks, or a certain subset of a company. A manager often has a team of people who report to him or her.” Basically a manager’s role involves connecting people, managing the team, and a lot more, all of which involves active conversations.
Recently, we had discussed the role of managers in driving employee engagement. The first point in the post focused on the importance of conversations in building rapport. While emails, chats, group discussions etc. are the more popular channels of communication in the modern times, the power of actual conversation is an element often lost in the digital age. However, as long as the human component exists, the importance of conversations cannot be ignored. With the growing demand for humanizing the workplace, managers now ought to focus more on the art of conversations to engage the employees and keep the connections alive.
Importance of Conversations
The generation of employees has changed. It is no longer an era where the ‘command and control culture’ works. The employee demographic today is composed of a mix of old and new, more tech savvy and more interactive. The role of managers too hence, requires an increased level of communication, many a times through positive conversations to ensure that the team works together to achieve the organizational goals.
In doing so, the managers need to carefully handle various conversations, at a professional level. While discussions are a means to make employees feel more valued, discussions about their long-term goals and personal strengths, should no longer be restricted to the annual evaluation cycles. The type of conversations that need to be highlighted, as a regular practice, may revolve around:
- Goal Setting: Wherein the managers involve the team members in the whole process, by leading healthy conversations, to develop the short and long-term goals. The goals should ideally be dynamic, adjusted with the overall business environment that influences it. This can only happen when the channel of communication is open and transparent. Merely exchanging goal setting templates / documents leads to compliance of a process, without getting team members to own their goals. Conversations ensure that not only do teams own their goals by clarifying and providing their own inputs, but also engage them with the performance management culture of the organisation.
Last year, we conducted a series of programs on “Effective Performance Conversations” for managers, along with “Seeking Feedback” for team members, to create a conversations culture around performance. This led to increased energies demonstrated at work.
- Difficult Conversations: A scenario wherein managers often try to avoid difficult conversations. However, as a matter of fact, a conversation is all it takes to resolve conflicts. In the book –Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, mention that, “managers often fear giving honest feedback; as a result, they end up sugar coating bad news or even avoiding performance evaluations altogether.” The managerial role involves handling both the good and the bad. And while it is easy to give good news, it is difficult to communicate the bad news. But, the trick as described in the book is to handle the conflicts as different conversations, i.e. the “What happened?” conversation, the “feelings” conversation, and the “identity” conversation, wherein the managers have to take up the role of passive listeners, honest critics and ethical counsellors to resolve the issues patiently and create an environment for peaceful co-existence.
A couple of years ago, we were given a brief by a client that managers are finding it difficult to have tough conversations with their team members, when needed. The fear of losing the employee to a conducive outside job market, led managers to mollycoddle the team members at the risk of accepting poor behaviour or performance. A “Difficult Conversations made Easy” workshop, that was created for this group, helped the managers to first have conversations with self, before they had with their teams. Often there are ‘stories’ that we tell ourselves about how people might react / behave and these stories might be baseless or seeped in our own biases. Having conversations with self is a way to minimise the hurt that we might cause others/self during such difficult conversations.
- Appreciation/Recognition: Stephen R. Covey once said, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” And how is that done? Positive reinforcements and genuine appreciation to the employees might just work the magic. While awards and ratings are the more visible formats of appreciation; when it comes to a manager-employee interaction, a face-to-face straightforward compliment can be more impactful in terms of providing the emotional benefit of being valued. A culture of appreciation is something that can be inculcated within an organisation through a combination of awareness and skill building. In most cases, genuine conversations that dwell on the experiences and feelings of the employees are the key to demonstrating actual appreciation.
- Constructive Feedback: Research points out that, more communicative, honest cultures drive increased productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction. Here again the art of conversation would act as the critical element in portraying the negative feedback as a constructive feedback. The tone and delivery of the feedback determines the way in which it is received.
According to Psychologist Dr. Christian Jarrett, “Constructive feedback has the potential to be a gift. In certain industries like medicine or aviation, it could even save lives. It sounds easy, but when mishandled it is also dangerous—it can ruin relationships and destroy confidence.” He also warns to, “Avoid destructive criticism and subtly offensive feedback. i.e. feedback that is delivered with a harsh tone, or that implies the reason for the poor performance is personal characteristics of the recipient that are stable and can’t be changed.” Managers in their role have to essentially learn to hold conversations that walk the fine line between being non-offensive and being thoughtful.
- Stay Dialogue: Managers or HR teams are known to be conducting exit interviews of colleagues who have put in their papers. More often than not, these interviews tend to be politically correct, given that the employee does not want to jeopardize his / her possibility of having a smooth exit. Exit interviews are like post-mortem analysis. However, conversations around the lines of a preventive health check-up are the Stay Dialogues. These dialogues helps the manager to understand what is working for the team member, what motivates him/her, etc.
Early in my career, when I got an opportunity to head a business while in New Delhi, my MD used to have such regular dialogues to understand my aspirations, my goals, my strengths and of course my challenges. While I never realised then that this was a stay dialogue, these conversations helped me strive and stay in the organisation for a long period.
Conversation, hence, is a critical skillset that makes the managers more efficient and active participants in their specific role of keeping the teams together. Good conversations are often tough to get going when people from different backgrounds are involved, mostly when it is in an organizational setting. And it is not wrong to assume that, even managers may need periodic training and guidance in the conversational art to be successful in relaying the right messages and maintaining the organizational balance.
In conclusion here’s an excerpt from Kim Krisco’s book- Leadership and the Art of Conversation, that sums it up perfectly, “We speak. We listen. We chat. Lots of people know how to talk—but few know how to really communicate. Conversation is the most powerful yet underutilized tool at a manager’s command. If managers change the way they talk to people, they can become much more than effective managers—they can become great leaders.”
- 3 Must-Have Managerial Dialogues to Engage & Develop Teams - November 14, 2018
- Why Managers Need to Understand Team Diversity - October 4, 2018
- Why Managers Need to Learn the Art of Conversations - August 8, 2018
- 6 Things Managers Can Do to Drive Employee Engagement - July 30, 2018
- The Happiness of Pursuit - October 10, 2017