Let’s talk about work and the new normal 1

I want to look at the topic of communication today, specifically how to have productive conversations during challenging times.

2020 is a year which will forever be ingrained in all our memories because we have experienced a pandemic of a new 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 discussions now. And what of our conversations? How has conversation 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 became quicker for one, whether at the kitchen table, 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 had to adjust to new ways of doing things, especially new ways of communicating, be it with family, friends, or 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 (showcased excellently by this toddler who interrupts a live BBC News interview for biscuits).
  • Priorities – in flux and changing, as previous strategies are now outdated.
  • Redundancies – anxiety over job security, the financial considerations and stress.
  • Mental health, resilience and wellbeing (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? Or struggling to communicate in general? It’s hardly surprising given the rollercoaster of emotions that we are all feeling. 

As Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler explain in their best seller ‘Crucial Conversations‘ – when a conversation has high stakes, strong emotions, or opposing opinions, it is likely to be a crucial or difficult conversation.

Sound familiar for some of your conversations of late? If so, 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 more 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 Enact’s 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,

Jemma Houghton

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.

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