Shop Talk Matters
let’s talk today about how what you say “in the shop” really matters to the company and to your bottom line. While it makes common sense to think that individual careers can change a person’s life based on critical conversations, it is also true that companies profitability is also dependent on how people talk to each other at work. Researchers and authors of Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Genny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzer studied this topic for over 25 years and searched for keys to organizational success. They looked for the secret
ingredients to corporate success in a company’s strategy, structure and systems. But the evidence showed a different pattern entirely. Those companies who invested heavily in fancy new management systems did little to improve performance. One study of 500 stunningly productive organizations showed that
high performance had nothing to do with forms, procedures and management that drive performance management. In fact, half of the high flyers had almost no performance management processes. So, what is behind these 500 companies
success? It all comes down to how we handle crucial conversations at work. Within high performing companies, when employees fail to deliver on a task, colleagues willingly talk to the employee in a timely manner. In the worst performing companies, poor performers are ignored and then eventually transferred. In mediocre companies, bosses eventually step in to deal with
problems. However, in the best companies, everyone holds everyone else accountable regardless of level of position. This accountability includes the upper executive. The path to high productivity is through face-to-face conversations at
all levels. Talking openly and honestly is very important at home. This makes sense to us. When human relationship researchers, Clifford Notarious and Howard Markman, studied couples in heated discussions. Couples tended to talk to each other in one
of three ways. How the couples argued mattered more than whether they ended up agreeing or disagreeing. Some of the couples digress into threats and name calling,
others silently fume and become cold and others speak openly, honestly and eventually effectively. These researchers could predict with 90% accuracy who would stay together and who would divorce based on one heated discussion and
watching how the couple talked it through. Those couples that could state their strongly held values honestly and respectfully stayed together, those that couldn’t split up. Think about your own strongly held opinions. How do you talk to others when talking about difficult topics? Do you avoid the conflict and instead make
“cheap shots” in passing comments? Do you charge into some conversations without understanding the perspectives of others? Do your loved ones “walk on eggshells” or avoid deep discussions with you? Then learning about how to talk about crucial topics will not only help you at work, it will also help you at home too!
The more crucial and important the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The stakes are very high. So, when learning how to talk to others whether at home or work, it is important to start with manageable goals. Telling the truth to
others starts small and we can begin this journey by making one goal each day to say the important truth to someone. Even having talking more openly with your doctor more regularly will be part of having these crucial conversations and it can affect your health.
After interviewing over 25 000 employees and looking for patterns that made people influential with others, the authors found that these influential workers talked to others and held them accountable in a manner that was relational and
conversational, not formal. The difficult conversations happened in real time as the situation unfolded. These workers held others to standards that they had set previously; they understood these other workers and spoke in a manner that was informal and direct. The free flow of meaningful information is brought forward
and openly discussed. That’s it! People share their ideas and feelings candidly with each other and those who are influential are the catalysts to get this done. Dialogue is the activity to accomplish this goal. People who are skilled at dialogue make it safe for everyone to add to the shared pool of meaning in a conversation, even ideas that may be in conflict with their
own personal beliefs. All ideas are shared in the open. As the pool of shared meaning grows, people make better choices when their view is widened. The larger the shared pool, the higher the group’s IQ. The whole becomes greater than
the sum of the original parts, when people speak openly. Then as people have willingly shared in the meaning, they are much more willing to act on the next task at work to create the shared vision. Let’s think of an example, let’s say a company
has a goal to become more environmentally friendly. The employees and the executive come together and share collective ideas. The ideas which emerged are recycle bottles and cans, reuse glass containers in the lunch room, instead of
disposables and to re-use paper and stationery supplies. Employees keep each other accountable and a side effect is that there is a noticeable reduction in theft of stationery supplies. This is because workers are in agreement with the green goal
and are working to keep each other and the executives accountable. The initiative to steal small items is smaller than the company’s shared will to be more green and
accountable. How much did this initiative cost the company? One afternoon meeting, but the pay off was a shared goal and less theft, which was a happy accidental benefit.
Now, think about your company and your fellow employees. Start what you really want from dialogue. Make the discussion useful by starting with what you observe. Most importantly mindfully make it safe to have a meaningful conversation. Even if the topic is a sensitive subject, start with your intention and
goal. It could sound like, “I realize this can be a sensitive topic, I really think if we talk about it we could make work better”. It is important to be humble when you speak. Creating safety is the main objective when you have a crucial conversation.
There are many creative ways to achieve this goal. Often times, if you simply become aware that the group has moved away from dialogue and shared meaning and state this awareness, “Check this out with me, I think we’ve moved away from
dialogue and shared understanding. Let’s talk about how to get back on track”.
We know that we are feeling unsafe when we use absolute words, when our tone becomes emphatic or sarcastic or when we are silent and guarded.
If you would like to learn more about how to talk more influentially at work and at home, state your intention out loud, “what I really want to do here is…”. Then create safety by being humble, stating what you see. Dialogue is the most crucial
feature of peak performers.
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Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the courage to have creativity in response to it.