The End of Water Cooler Conversations

"Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation." - Mark Twain

Managers no longer try to have a conversation with their people. While social media has proven itself to be very beneficial in some areas of communication, I believe it has also to some extent has sabotaged in-person communication.

Meaningful Conversation is an Overlooked skill

"A single conversation across the table with a wise person is worth a month's study of books"- Chinese Proverb

Good news, bad news, or any kind of news, gets communicated through email and WhatsApp. These may not always convey the correct meaning of what one wants to say.

Effective conversation is more important than just communication. Technology has helped us to connect and communicate, but these are superficial connections.

Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and author of the book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, talks about CEO's who now make it a point of instructing employees to work out disagreements and apologize in face-to-face meetings.

Imagine that you have to deliver a poor performance review to one of your team members or have to ask one of your best team members to resign since his role has become redundant. It is not proper to do this with an email or WhatsApp. But nowadays, many managers fear doing this in person and shy away from a conversation because it is painful.

Conversational competence is the most overlooked skill today. It's time organizations review their competency list and add this one as most critical. Not just effective communication, but effective conversation. Conversation builds respect, empathy, friendship, love, and also improves productivity.

Stephen R. Covey in his book " The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" talks about Seek first to understand, then to be understood (habit 5).

Importance of good conversation with your team

The days of water cooler conversations are coming to an end. You now see a bunch of people standing around the water cooler or the coffee machine, but each is engaged and focused on their mobile screens.

If you notice someone under-performing, engaging with the person in a conversation would be more constructive than just emailing. It would be a difficult conversation, but as a manager and a leader, you need to face it. You cannot run away from it.

Allowing your team member to talk is very important. Give him your full attention and be non-judgmental.

You need to develop successful working relationships with your team and you cannot depend on technology and social media alone to do that for you.

You may be a great communicator, an excellent orator, and speaker who knows how to make a compelling presentation to the bosses, but that is not enough. In the VUCA world, you need to be a great conversationalist. You need to have a frequent conversation with your teams. They are the ones who would drive your goals for you. You need to, therefore, connect with them at a deeper level.

Tips to having a meaningful conversation

  • Don't shy away from open-ended conversations. Talk with a wish to understand your team member and connect at a deeper level.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN and connect. Show interest in what they are saying. Refrain from the urge to get your point across.
  • Do not judge, ask questions, give a solution from your point of reference or your experience. Listen and be nonjudgmental.
  • Put away your electronic devices and ask others to do the same when you are getting into a conversation.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change