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Workplace Communication

Looking back on some of the big communications topics facing employers, workplace communication is always top of mind. Particularly what and how to prevent the “quiet” thoughts and concerns of employeees from becoming internal (or, worse yet, public) shouting matches.

In 2017, one week alone so the popularity and role of anonymous messaging apps, such as Sarahah, and the Google Manifesto, shoot to the top  of newsfeeds and ignite the national conversation about workplace communication.

The Sarahah app (Sarahah means honesty in Arabic) is designed to let others know what you think of them in an anonymous way. Its founder created it hoping to get 1,000 messages, but it has soared to the top as a most downloaded app on both the Android and Apple platforms. It is designed to be used in our personal lives as well as our work lives. The description for the app in the Apple store describes it as a way to “discover your strengths and areas for improvement by receiving honest feedback from your employees and your friends in a private manner.”

But, is it really a necessary tool for professionals, especially communication professionals? Why have we come to a point where we cannot speak freely with our coworkers and bosses if something is bothering us or we have new ideas?

The Google manifesto story displays the flip side of this issue. We are not allowed to say whatever we want in the workplace when what we want to say is hurtful and untrue. But, any feedback or contribution given in good faith should be acknowledged and even better, encouraged.

Here are some tips for encouraging healthy dialogue in the workplace.

  1. When approaching sensitive topics, come at the issue from both (or “all” sides, if need be). This doesn’t mean advocating every side of an issue equally, nor does it mean putting off urgent topics indefinitely to “keep the peace.” It means thoroughly considering the points of view of everyone involved before initiating discussion, understanding how others can, in good faith, hold a different points of view (even completely wrong ones), born sincerely of their own experiences, observation, and insights.  Approaching issues of concern only after considering why others feel differently, and how they might have come to their opinions honestly, not only gives you valuable perspective on the issue, it reveals the footholds for meaningful discussion, compromise, and, if needed, where and how to approach changing others’ minds.
  2. Take the time needed for difficult or sensitive conversations. You know how when you rush out of the house in a panic, you’re more likely to have forgotten something important? Whether it’s a key detail or important item you needed to have with you, shooting out of the gate unecessarily fast can handicap you in the long run, including in workplace communication and problem solving. Take the time to consider the issues above and then the time to ensure you’re only starting conversations when others have the time and bandwidth to address the issue. There’s no loss of virtue in agreeing to discuss topics at a high level first, and then to come back and discuss at a later, agreed upon date. This doesn’t putting off urgent topics indefinitely to “keep the peace,” it simply means more can be accomplished with an appropriately deliberate pace that respects the time and resources of others. After all, accomplishing your goal is the most important part of tackling a workplace concern.
  3. If the topic is controversial, keep initial discussions limited, to ensure the information and discussion stays relevant and within your direction (at least until you’re ready for it to go wider–on your timeline). The author of the Google manifesto lost his job because of the topic and his inappropriate and insensitive approach to it–of that there is no doubt–but it’s hard not recognize that his choice to take his concerns wide, via a format and forum that brought more people into the discussion than necessary to resolve his concerns, played a key role in his downfall as well. For 90% of workplace issues–however unpopular, however sensitive–the goal in communicating them cannot both be enjoin a constructive discussion and find a satisfactory resolution AND complain, vent, or whip up sentiment in your favor, risking dividing your workplace or bad publicity for your employer. Start with those who can give you insights and help you to understand the issue better, branch into those who can work to reslove the problem, and go from there.  Don’t start by putting your employer on blast.
  4. Know your communication style and the style of your audience. This means doing your research. Is your boss a just the facts guy? Then get straight to the point. Have your thoughts well thought out and concise. Don’t know how your boss prefers to communicate? Maybe you should have a conversation in a future meeting. Or better yet, ask for a professional assessment of your communication style, such as DISC. (BZ offers these and we highly recommend them to employers and employees–particularly those who continually find themselves disconnected or “crossing wires” with colleagues, managers, teammates, or employees.  It’s amazing how quickly the issue can be resolved with a little information–contact us for more information!

Want to learn more? Looking for more than just insights into your own workplace communication? Contact the BZ Group for a free unofficial assessment and see if our available options, from low-cost DISC assessments for individuals and teams to off-site training on workplace communication.

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