The power of conversations at work

It might be stating the obvious, but business is about people. Yes, digital tools help boost efficiency but the essence of business and delivering high quality work comes down to people – individuals being able to play to their strengths and the relationships within teams.

With many of us now coming together in person more regularly after two years of enforced separation and virtual-only connection, it’s a good time to refocus on how we can build meaningful connections.

Some more old-fashioned, command and control style leaders might be appalled by the level of ‘social’ interactions they are seeing in offices as people come back together again. “How can we get people to understand that being at work is about working?” they might ask. What they need to understand is that talking is working and that conversations, even and perhaps especially social ones, are powerful.

We need to reframe what productivity means: sitting in front of a screen all day responding to emails is not necessarily more productive than building strong and positive relationships through conversation with colleagues. According to research published in Harvard Business Review, one face-to-face request is 34 times more likely to be successful than an email.

Conversations increase cohesion at work and creating connections is vital to wellbeing and productivity. Positive relationships make us feel more energetic and motivated, improving engagement and resilience. But despite the clear benefit of relationships, loneliness remains one of the most serious health concerns we face as a society: it is worse for us than obesity. Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In the UK, 45% of adults – 25 million people – say they feel often, sometimes or occasionally lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.

Enabling and encouraging meaningful conversations in the work environment is a vital tool in preventing the scourge of loneliness, as well as boosting team performance as team members will know each other on a deeper, more human level, allowing them to have more open, trusting and – when needed – challenging conversations. Poor communication on the other hand can damage relationships, motivation and performance.

Many organisations and people leaders speak now about the need for regular performance check-ins, often replacing the annual appraisal. The success of these is dependent on the ability to have great conversations, something which doesn’t happen by accident. Fortunately, being able to have great performance conversations is a skill that can be learned. Focusing on people’s strengths, for instance, starts the conversation on positive footing, energising people rather than putting them on the defensive.

These prompts can you to build meaningful human connections through conversation:

  • How am I? Openly sharing how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking encourages openness from others. Being vulnerable is a key way to build trust
  • How are you really? Encourage people to tell you more and get beyond ‘fine’
  • What do I need? How can I deliver on my objectives? How can you help? What are the barriers to my performance?
  • What do we need? How can we deliver our team outcomes? How can we help? What are the barriers to our performance?
  • What energises you about your work? This helps you uncover people’s strengths and passions.
  • What was your best day this week and why?

We all know that the culture of an organisation is shaped by the behaviour of the top team, so if you want to build a culture of conversation and connection, it’s vital that leaders act as role models. Understanding the value of and building human connection is a key part of human leadership. That connection involves strengthening relationships by building trust, psychological safety and connecting on a more human level with colleagues and other stakeholders.

Leaders need to role model by starting conversations, asking questions and creating space for teams to bond in a human way. This should be seen as core and valuable to the working day, rather than as ‘time wasting’. Because conversations are a powerful tool for building social capital and connections within the organisation and beyond, and ultimately getting stuff done.

Bailey & French can help your managers and leaders build meaningful connections through the power of conversation. Explore our conversation mats and discussion cards tools available in our shop.