Let’s talk about supporting colleagues

During the last few months, like many people, we at Enact Solutions have been following the news intently and were devastated to learn that not only are healthcare workers more at risk from Covid-19 because of their exposure levels, but that disproportionate numbers of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people) healthcare workers have died from Covid-19.

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In April 2020, a study was published in the Health Service Journal which looked at 119 NHS staff members who had died from Covid-19.

The study found that 63% of those 119 staff were of BAME background. This is despite BAME staff members making up only 21% of NHS employees.

When we were approached by an NHS Trust, asking how best to support BAME colleagues through the Covid-19 pandemic, we set to work.

Based on research and real-life interviews with NHS employees, looking at the complexity of organising staff rotas, with regards to people’s specialities, additional Covid-19 precautions, risk levels of staff etc, we created the following scenario: 

A BAME nurse has a conversation with her supervisor. She expresses her concerns about the inequality the above study has highlighted, the increased risk to her and her family’s health and the mix of emotions she is feeling around the whole pandemic. This is juxtaposed with her love for her job, and her patients.

Delegates get to watch a difficult conversation, which has extremely high stakes and strong emotions involved. The nurse and her supervisor don’t have opposing views, but they do have slightly different priorities. Whilst staff safety is a priority for both, the staff nurse supervisor also has to fulfil her role of creating and implementing rotas. This is a logistical nightmare at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. It’s an unprecedented situation, which requires incredibly careful conversation.

Through the scene, delegates learn that people often go into ‘solution mode’, ie trying to fix a problem quickly, when having difficult conversations. Whilst this is an understandable response – especially in the healthcare sector (as it’s in people’s nature to care and make things better), this response can inadvertently make some situations worse.

We find that delegates are often desperate to know what the right thing to say or do is, (again, not a bad thing), but what happens when there isn’t an easy solution? Often it’s about learning how to communicate so that people are listened to, understood, supported and valued. It’s about building strong foundations, so that dialogue can remain open in the future, so trust can be built, more conversations can happen, collaboration can begin and people can work together better. 

Human beings are social creatures at the end of the day and it’s imperative that we be able to communicate well, especially in times of change and conflict. Good communication makes for happier, healthier individuals and increased productivity at work.

We’ve had a significantly increased demand for our ‘Productive Conversations in Challenging Times’ workshop at Enact Solutions of late and no wonder… Organisations recognise these are unprecedented times and want their staff to be able to communicate potentially difficult conversations as productively as possible. 

I’ll finish with a thought, which though cliche is apt: “A problem shared is a problem halved”.

In this we realise that in order to share a problem, we must first be able to communicate it.

Happy conversing,

Jemma Houghton

This is the third and final 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. You can read Jemma’s first blog on this topic,  Let’s talk about work and the new normal, and her second blog Let’s talk about learning through practice on our site. If you’re interested you can find out more about Enact Solutions’ Products and have a look at Enact Solutions’ Events on our website. 

Let’s talk about work and the new normal

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.