From healthy conversations come healthy cultures

How healthy are the conversations in your team?  In fact, take a step back and think about where most of the issues arise in your business?  When you boil it right down, it usually starts and ends with conversations.  Or to be more precise, lack of healthy, timely, productive conversations.

I challenge you to think of an issue you are having right now, and retrace it back to where it all went wrong, and I bet that somewhere along the line you will find that something went wrong in conversation.

Maybe that project went over budget, or perhaps that machine failed, or that marketing campaign failed.  At some point someone would have noticed a flaw, a risk or a solution and either did not share it, or was not listened too.  Maybe you are getting grievances about a Manager, now don’t tell me they came out of the blue.  Someone noticed, and someone didn’t have the right conversation at the right time.

Lack of healthy conversations prevent you from achieving the high performance most businesses want to achieve, it hinders trust, innovation and creativity.  We know is pushes people into stress, fear and blame behaviours, where competition, survival and self preservation rules the culture.

I recently bumped  into an old, valued colleague.  The last time I saw him he was what you would call a rising star.  He had a proven track record, and was now in full swing of his career, recently promoted, well respected and with so much passion and enthusiasm you could hardly contain it, and he delivered.  Now some years later, I was surprised to hear that he had left the organisation, resigned in fact, because he didn’t feel valued.  He told me that he had given his all, over achieving on all of his objectives and was being told what a great job he was doing by his manager. Yet in his annual review he had been given “satisfactory”.

Satisfactory!!! He challenged that statement as he felt he had gone that extra mile and if that was satisfactory, well what did good, or even excellent look like?  The response was clear, “You worked really hard this year, but I couldn’t give everyone excellent, so I had to give you satisfactory”.  The conversation resulted in one outstanding individual handing in his resignation letter within the hour.

So what went wrong, quite simply it was a result of avoidance of healthy, honest and timely conversations.

We all try to avoid giving bad news because we are generally nice people.  We all like to be accepted and generally we avoid conversations that might be difficult.  We need to learn to overcome our own discomfort in service of others and the businesses in which we operate in.  Healthy conversations can be motivational and ignite performance, yet we allow our own fear and discomfort drive our behaviour.

Our discomfort shows up in a number of ways:

  • You may find yourself simply avoiding the conversation or putting it off for another day.  Hoping it’ll all be fine in the end.
  • You may do the traditional sandwich approach, coating the critical points in a nice, soft and superficial context, completely missing the mark and losing the message.
  • You may rush the inevitable and blurt out the difficult conversation, appearing blunt and without empathy.

So I asked my old colleague, how could it have been different and his response was simple.

“I just wanted honesty.  If I had known I wasn’t really achieving what was classed as excellent, I could have done something about it”

And there lies the simple answer.  We all want honesty.  Healthy, productive and respectful conversations are all embedded with trust and honesty.  When there is no trust, we hold back and judge, assume and create a divide.

To measure how healthy your culture is, simply ask yourself, How healthy are the conversations we have here?

At WWWH we focus on building trust with leaders, teams and cultures to enable powerful, honest and healthy conversations to accelerate personal and business performance. This is where we believe real change happens.