What do employee engagement, employee retention and productivity all have in common? They’re each driven by the quality of the interpersonal dynamics that make up your workplace. And this matters, because each of these factors directly impacts your company’s bottom line.
What then, constitutes a culture of “quality interpersonal dynamics”? Far less mysterious then it sounds, the answer is simple; it starts with quality communication.
Interpersonal interaction happens through conversation, and these conversations create the foundation for your company culture. Yet the practice of establishing clear communication and conversational guidelines is generally overlooked as a focus for training or team building.
Whether you manage a sales team, a project management team or a major league basketball team; your company will benefit from helping people to improve the quality of their conversations, from recognizing their impact on others, to discovering how to set the stage for better outcomes.
Getting to We
In this month’s Toastmaster Magazine, communications guru Lisa Marshall shared the top questions she’s received from some of the 17 million listeners who download her Public Speaker podcast over the past 3 years.
The top concern expressed by Marshall’s business audience was nothings as sticky dealing with difficult people or managing confrontation, instead, the biggest question these millions of aspiring leaders posed is “how should I introduce myself”.
The second; how to make small talk.
The big surprise may be that a large percentage of your employees do not know how to introduce themselves and to make small talk, or it may be the fact that learning this skill will impact your workplace far beyond the social sphere, as we’ll further explore.
Consider the following example; you walk into your office on a Monday morning, fresh from the bumper to bumper traffic you were navigating while simultaneously arguing with (or getting yelled at by) your teenager, and as you heave your way through the front door, a colleague you don’t know well walks by. Although you’re pretty sure she saw you, she keeps walking without acknowledging you.
What just happened?
- You walked in harried, and the first person you saw refused to make eye contact. Your conclusion: Just more confirmation that the people you work with are not open to connecting either socially or professionally.
- You walked in harried, assumed the new person saw you and decided from the look on your face that you’re unfriendly, and kept walking. Your conclusion: You made a poor first impression and now you won’t be able to undo it, and since connection and culture are low priorities in your office, it doesn’t matter anyway,3. You walked in harried, assumed the new person saw you but since you haven’t formally met, she wasn’t remiss in not saying hello. Your conclusion: You’ll make it a point to catch up with her today to properly introduce yourself and see whether there is an opportunity to connect on future projects.
Answer: although the interpretation is ultimately up to you, your environment has a measurable impact.
In any given situation there are lots of options to interpret other people’s behavior, and in the workplace, culture plays a central role in determining how events are interpreted, and how future dynamics will play out.*
Communication is a give and take effort, and the outcome is determined by both the intention and the reception, the latter of which is easily misconstrued. Fortunately, interpretation often maps to back culture, which can be shaped by an ongoing management-led practice of positive, supportive communication.
For Psychology Geeks*
George Herbert Mead, the founder of social psychology, described the dynamic at play in interpreting meaning during social interactions. During his studies, he asked his audience to think of a dog gesturing to another dog by baring its teeth and snarling. At the moment of the snarl, dog 1 may be acting upon a particular motivation, but the ultimate meaning of its gesture cannot yet be known. Is the intention a territorial warning, a call to the mat, or an invitation to play?
The gesture’s meaning is now no longer simply the property of the gesture itself but rather arises in the interpretation and ensuing interaction; it depends upon—and can only be completed by—the response it elicits from the other animal. This concept of shared meaning making is common to all interactions, and it characterizes the dynamics that shape norms, or culture.
Meaning-making aside, the question is, how can we create and support a culture of clear, high quality conversations when so many of us don’t know where to start?
Setting the Stage
In today’s worlplace where the level of diversity is unprecedented, and communications options and norms are constantly shifting, creating a shared understanding of communications norms is critical.
The sense of belonging that comes from creating clear guidelines for communication is essential to employee engagement.
One expert, Dr. Anthony Suchman has been studying the dynamics of human relationships for more than three decades, publishing his results in some of the world’s leading medical journals.According Suchman, whether we’re out on the town or interacting at the office, we’re constantly scanning other people’s behavior for signs of acceptance or rejection as we read social cues.
Yet how we interpret our observations depends largely upon our sense of connection with or belonging to the individuals or organizations we’re technically a part of. Anytime fear or uncertainty enter the equation, it creates distrust and distraction, which is why establishing connection and confidence though better conversation is such a powerful tool.
When an organization sets the stage for establishing high quality, clear and reciprocal conversation, it dramatically changes the dynamics to a more engaged and inclusive workplace.
Ready to bring conversational intelligence to your organization? Contact me today!