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Let’s talk about work and the new normal

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  • Priorities – in flux and changing, as previous strategies are now outdated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.

Let’s talk.


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.


Reducing harassment, bullying and incivility in the NHS

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post. This article from Sunday’s Guardian has prompted me to put that right.

The NHS holds a special place for many of us. My family and I have had many occasions to be grateful for the care and support we’ve received at all sorts of times of the day and night. I don’t ever take for granted what we have here in the UK.

I’m also under no illusions, just because a service is filled with ‘caring’ professionals doesn’t necessarily lead to workplaces filled with peace, love and understanding. As the Guardian’s article makes all too clear.

The thing is, and the reason I felt moved to write today, in my experience many NHS Trusts are aware they face problems and recognise they have work to do to create productive, healthy, and mutually supportive workplaces. In many instances, they are taking practical steps to close the reality gap between the core values they espouse and the day-to-day experiences of some employees on the ground.

For example, we recently worked with a proactive NHS Trust that wanted us to use our drama-based, experiential approach to work with groups of employees to:

  • Establish a shared understanding of the kind of workplace they (and pretty much everyone in fact) want to work in;
  • Expose the extent of inappropriate and negative behaviours, including acknowledging their own individual shortcomings;
  • Recognise the impact such behaviours have on individuals, working relationships, and ultimately patient care;
  • Achieve clarity on what constitutes bullying behaviour;
  • Signpost where they can go for help and support;
  • Identify what each person can do to establish a more supportive and inclusive environment.

Over the course of 16 3-hour sessions of dramatised content, interactive electronic voting, and honest conversations we worked with over 350 operational employees from one hospital. The sessions were widely well received and valued.

Headline results from the sessions and a follow-up survey 6-8 weeks later included:

  • 98% of delegates on the day said the session helped them understand more what constitutes inappropriate attitudes and behaviours in the workplace;
  • 99% committed to helping create a more supportive and inclusive working environment;
  • 98% found the session worthwhile;
  • 35% of delegates went on in the weeks after the training to have a ‘difficult’ or ‘honest’ conversation in response to a situation or behaviour they thought was undesirable;
  • 83% had done all or some of what they planned during the training; and
  • 98% still felt the training had been worthwhile.

This is just one example of the proactive steps taking place in the NHS and the work we have been doing to help. On its own it won’t fix all the harassment, bullying and incivility that exists but, allied with other initiatives and changes, I believe it can help make a positive difference. As this delegate put it:

“I feel that changes are beginning.  There is still a long way to go.  I think that this course or its content should be part of the annual refresher so that these behaviours come to be automatic.”

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you want to create a more supportive workplace and would like to know more about our work with NHS clients, feel free to contact me.