Conversation = civilization

August 26, 2008
Shel Silverstein reads Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein reads Shel Silverstein

My niece learned to read this year and she is gobbling up everything she can find. In my ongoing quest to be the coolest, hippest — and therefore her favorite — aunt, I scoured through my boxes of books to find her some old treasures I used to love. I stopped when I found A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. She’s going to flip when she reads this stuff! Anyway, I ran across a poem I had forgotten:

ATIONS

If we meet and I say, “Hi,”
That’s a salutation.
If you ask me how I feel,
That’s consideration.
If we stop and talk awhile,
That’s a conversation.
If we argue, scream and fight,
That’s an altercation.
If we later apologize,
That’s reconciliation.
If we help each other home,
That’s cooperation.
And all these ations added up
Make civilization.

(And if I say this is a wonderful poem,
Is that exaggeration?)

—Shel Silverstein

Sure, the target audience here may have been children, but I work for an organization that could sometimes use a little reminder about how this stuff works. Do you, too? Conversation, consideration, communication, celebration… what other “ations” should we apply to help the civilization (and plain old civility!) in our workplaces?


Simple conversation-starters for managers and leaders

August 12, 2008

One of the best tools a blogger has is a statistics page that provides the search terms people use to arrive at your blog. Today one of my search terms caught my eye: “simple conversations with tag questions.”

It struck me, I’ve talked about why simple conversations are worth your time, but I didn’t say how to start! Here are a few starters that will get your people talking about the things your business needs them to talk about:

  • What questions do you have for me? (I covered this one before as well, but it’s worth repeating.)
  • What do you know about ______? (whatever it is: latest corporate initiative, big new account, sales targets, etc.)
  • What’s going well for you at work these days?
  • What was frustrating for you at work this week? (Followed by the much-appreciated: Is there anything I can do to help?)
  • How do you think we could improve the way we’re doing this?
  • How would you approach this problem?
  • In a perfect world, what would you like us to do?
  • What do you think?
  • What feedback do you have for me?

Employees have questions. They have concerns. They have ideas. They want to share them, but they want to feel welcome to do so. And that’s why it’s so important for managers and leaders to create a safe, welcoming environment that encourages these exchanges.

No doubt there are many, many more questions you could ask employees to get them talking. What are some of your favorite conversation-starters?


Here’s a secret to manager success

July 21, 2008

I care a lot about employees. I’m not a manager, I don’t have a team of people reporting to me. But as a professional communicator, I am always thinking about the employees who will read our messages. What will they think? How will they feel? What will they do? Will what I’m about to say help them feel connected to the organization… or not?

This thought process naturally means that employee engagement is looming large on my radar screen these days. Corporate America could accomplish so much, employees could be so happy / satisfied / passionate about what they’re doing… if only we could engage them.

So here’s an idea, courtesy of Tim Wright at Culture to Engage. His recent post, To Ask Is To Answer Is To Ask, shares the secret of one of his best managers. You should read his whole post, but here’s the punchline. Just add this one question to your repertoire:

What questions do you have for me?

Genius! Notice how it assumes employees have questions, because they do. If you start asking this enough, people will start to answer. They’ll save up their questions because they’ll know their opportunity is coming soon. Then, provided you Shut up and listen, you will have started a conversation. And that, folks, is employee engagement. It’s fast, it’s easy, it will cost you nothing — and yet there’s so much to gain.


Ask a different question.

July 14, 2008

Another lightbulb moment to report, courtesy of the Heath brothers. I’m reading their chapter in Made to Stick about making your ideas unexpected. And then they go and shift my paradigm with this:

“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?” [p. 88]

The main differences in these questions, of course, are that:

  • the first focuses on the monologue, the blah-blah-blah.
  • and the second seeks dialogue. Conversation, that is — interaction.

Everyone’s asking why employees aren’t engaged — isn’t it possible they’re not engaged because we’re not engaging them? We’re not giving them the chance to ask the questions they want to ask, directly and free from unnecessary filters. Everyone’s asking how to fight the grapevine — isn’t it possible the best way to fight rumors and gossip is with facts? Why aren’t we talking with employees? Why aren’t we being more serious about this?

As a communicator it’s often frustrating that I can’t personally do more to affect employee engagement. But this new question to ask myself may be the way I can contribute: What questions do I want my audience to ask? I might have to approach my writing and communications planning in a whole different way.