Isn’t it amazing how much ‘talk’ the Christmas and New Year period seems to generate? The darker evenings invite more chat, not to mention the comfort of food, the cosy fireplace, the welcoming pubs and the irregular presence of friends and family all being conducive to a good old chinwag. When we take the time to be still and in each others’ company over these few days off, it’s amazing how the conversations will flow, and we will often be surprised what we find ourselves (and others!) saying. We disclose and help each other with problems, often the work ones, it has to be said. We also look to the future, laying out possible options and considering together what we might do differently next year to move ourselves forward. We feel supported and re-energised, ready to reconnect with the world of work. But once we’re back in the proverbial work saddle, all too often the ‘talk’ in our offices and our roles is noticeable by its absence. Sure, we are speaking, but with our Christmas talk boost ringing around our heads, the work conversation seems to lack meaning, support and energy.
So how can we bring real talk back into work? One good idea is to set the ‘Lyons’ tea in pride of place, so everyone can access the talk that the Lyons tea worker have kindly packed into the bags in their recent advertising campaign! We all know a cup of tea can easily generate a good chat, and with a little support, that chat can really turn to great talk, if we apply the 4 steps of dialogue (Isaacs 1999):-
Listen – sounds simple, but we really need to take time to hear the words, to be really present and so hear how they make us feel. Only then can we notice too what we are thinking as we hear – this is real active listing. One trick I use is to imagine the words written down a someone is saying them – then I have to read them too, and it just slows down my listening process. To listen Is to be still. One can think of this process as calming the surface waters of our experience, so we can see to the depths.
Respect – this means ‘to look again’, at the speaker, to realise their many facets, where their experience lies and appreciate the fact that here is another living, breathing being. We must legitimise the source of the words we hear, accept they have things to teach us and appreciate that we are both part of the greater whole. To respect another we must first centre ourselves, and then acknowledge that any behaviour or attitude we may perceive in another, will also be to some extent within ourselves, which is why we can recognise it, and must respect it.
Suspend - when someone speaks, their words will trigger all sorts of associations, both cognitive and emotional, from past experience, people and interactions, both good and bad. This human reaction is designed to protect ourselves and to streamline cognition and whilst ongoing can seem like a lightning strike inside. It generates assumed certainty and quickly triggers reactionary behaviour. Instead, what we need to do is suspend or ‘hang up’ this certainty, hold the electric occurring inside, to make room to explore the possibilities below it, to appreciate we do not know, and ask questions. As we find out more, we think more deeply and produce a new clarity for ourselves and others.
Voice – and then we need to speak it. We have to find our authentic voice, and let it say what we are thinking. This requires locating our internal confidence and self-trust to take seriously the possibility that our perspective may be valid for others. But we need to give time to this process too, letting what we are thinking take shape and form before giving words to it. Trust the emptiness, the sense of not knowing what we are going to say, as with patience comes creativity, and it will be worth listening to, both for ourselves and others.
These 4 processes of dialogue will help us create real conversation, with the only requirements being willingness and time. The Christmas break has reminded us how supportive and energising a good conversation can be, so imagine the potential of this in terms of workplace well-being and relationships. As this new work year gets underway, despite the onslaught of e-mails and the daily rush, get that cup of tea, start with listening, and make time for good talk – it will pay dividends in your work over and again.
Isaacs, W. (1999) Dialogue and the art of thinking together. Doubleday, NY