There is no doubt that a huge amount of difficulties we experience within an office comes from the things that go unsaid. People don’t speak honestly about their hopes, desires or frustrations. They get bottled up and are often expressed in many unhelpful ways such as passive aggressive comments, gossip and more often than not just down right angry confrontations. Indirectness can be toxic within a team environment.
However, there are many good reasons why so many of us avoid talking our truth. As children we often learnt as a coping mechanism to suppress our thoughts to keep a teacher or parent happy. The inequalities that exist in our world as a child are ever present. As a small vulnerable child it would have been sometimes hard to speak up to a powerful and dominant adult. In an office environment these inequalities are still an ever present reality. How can I speak to my boss about this? He may fire me. What if I say that and then we lose the contract? Within an office there are numerous excuses we can use to not speak up and they are born out of our childhood experiences.
But an office who knows the value of emotional intelligence in a team doesn’t accept this. It knows that the price of indirectness is too expensive to ignore, and also how much wisdom and learning can come from being direct with one another.
So given indirectness is so counter productive how do you possibly create a safe environment in which direct conversations can happen? Well the first thing is to recognise that some human beings, as discussed before, have many frailties and fears around being direct. Once you have accepted this you can then start to build a process that will allow people to feel safe in being direct with one another.
Firstly, give your direct conversations the right amount of prestige. They are an extremely important part of how you are going to succeed as a team so ensure the attitude towards them reflects that. Any employee should be able to put in a request to have a direct chat with any other. The receptionist and the boss or the office junior and the sales person.
In order for the conversations to work people must be trained in order to understand how they work. There are responsibilities for both the speaker and listener in any direct conversation. For example the speaker can never directly accuse the listener, for example they can’t say “You never listen to me in meetings” but “I feel you never listen to me in meetings”. This distinction is important because it allows for misunderstanding.
On the other side the listener must never condemn, ridicule or deny that there is an issue. They have to accept the courage and authenticity that the person has shown with sharing their feelings.
With a direct conversation more unusual behaviours must be permitted such as emotional responses. You can cry, you can be intense, emotion is allowed. This doesn’t get used against you. Most importantly, one moves on: one isn’t allowed to hold grudges from past direct conversations.
Having direct conversations should become part of your office culture. Not having at least 4 or 5 direct conversations a year is an indication that something is going wrong. Indirectness is emotionally unhelpful and far, far too expensive for any business to allow.