Some conversations are much harder than others. Recognising why that’s the case is vital if you want to avoid pitfalls and have productive conversations, especially during difficult times like these.
2020 is a year which will forever be ingrained in all our memories because of the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19.
I don’t know about you, but these scientific words didn’t feature in my vocabulary at all in 2019, but they are the focus of many of my conversations now. And what of conversation? How has talking with others changed with this new norm we find ourselves in?
It’s been many months since the UK went into lockdown, with strict measures being enforced, changing and easing. For the most part, minus our incredible key workers, we stayed home; either working from home or being furloughed (another new word for 2020).
Face-to-face meet-ups and meetings became a thing of the past. We communicated with our families, friends and colleagues via screens. Gone were the little chats with our colleagues in the lunch room and the “hi” and “bye” at the start and end of the working day. In many ways, we have gone from 3 dimensional life to 2D and simpler lives. Our commute is a lot quicker, whether because it’s at the kitchen table or in the box room, or because there’s less traffic on the roads. We have experienced a phenomenal amount of change in a short period of time. We have all had to adjust to new ways of doing things, especially new ways of communicating with others, including our work colleagues.
And it’s conversations that I want to talk about and focus on today.
There’s no doubt it has been a challenging time, not least because the number of difficult conversations we are having has increased exponentially.
Here are some examples:
- Furlough – what this means, how it works, impact on annual leave & pensions, etc.
- Deadlines – attempting to hit them, whilst working in new & unfamiliar ways (such as being interrupted every 2 minutes by your child wanting another biscuit – showcased excellently on this live BBC News interview)
- Priorities – in flux and changing, as previous strategies are now outdated
- Redundancies – worrying this may happen, processing it if it does, the financial considerations, the stress
- Mental health, wellbeing and our emotional resilience – this deserves a blog in itself, as the subject matter is so large
We also find ourselves in a world where conversations, which wouldn’t previously have required much, if any, forethought, now dominate our heads and lives:
- What is the current government guidance?
- What is my, or my family’s, level of risk?
- How do I communicate to my friends/ family/ colleagues that I may have different risk levels to them?
This tumultuous change and stress has led to tensions increasing, and our ability to communicate has been impacted.
Have you noticed yourself snapping more, experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions as you try to get your point across, or struggling to deal with other people’s emotions? It’s hardly surprising.
As Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler explain in their excellent best seller Crucial Conversations, any conversation that involves one or more of opposing opinions, strong emotions or high stakes is likely to be a crucial conversation. These are precisely the kind of difficult exchanges many of us seek to avoid or handle less well than we would like.
Sound familiar? Have some of your conversations at work or in everyday life been like this recently? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
And it’s not all bad news! Once you know what constitutes a potentially difficult conversation, there are steps you can take to turn it into a successful, productive conversation. And here’s the exciting part, and what we love teaching at Enact Solutions – being able to converse, be it professionally or personally, is actually a skill. And what do we know about skills? That they can be developed! That’s where we come in.
At Enact Solutions, we run a range of learning and development training workshops, including one dealing with the skills needed to hold Productive Conversations. All of them are available in face-to-face and online virtual formats. If you’re interested in any professional development for your organisation, you can check out all our products and have a look at our events page for details of upcoming showcases where you can experience what makes our approach so special.
This is the first in a series of blog posts about Productive Conversations written by Jemma Houghton, one of our Associates at Enact Solutions. She works in a range of areas including research, writing, filming and workshop consultancy.