Conversations that Improve Organizational Culture

Conversations in organizations generally happen because we need to provide or seek information or give and receive feedback. As knowledge workers, conversation is how we get our work done, how shared meaning is developed, and how knowledge is generated and shared. Conversations also influence the degree of organizational innovation.

The way leaders and colleagues converse with each other matters for organizational outcomes. If we dig deep into the root of the conversations we have with our colleagues and leaders we’ll find that the underlying agenda is tied to the mission, strategy, and goals of the organization. The way we converse then, shapes the culture and the way organizational objectives are achieved.

Sometimes organizational dialog has the positive elements of interactivity (equal opportunity for all to participate), intimacy, and an uplifting tone. Sometimes conversations feel more like being talked at, or talked to, and have a tone “from up on high.” The latter can be common in large hierarchical organizations and government agencies.

The most productive organizational conversations that achieve engagement, build relationships, and promote a culture of openness and sharing (all attributes that help organizations be successful) are those that aim to be productive for all involved, are interactive (dialog versus monologue), intentional, and intimate (meaning brings the parties closer together in spirit). Productive conversations are focused on true dialog, not just communication.

Speech and language distinguishes human beings from all other species. While other species make sounds, we talk. The words we use, and how we say them, express our unique thought process. Our ability to articulate what we’re thinking in recognizable speech is done effortlessly. So effortlessly that we may not take the time to stop and think about how we’re talking. When talking do you talk “at” someone, or do you engage them? Since much of our personal effectiveness lies with how we communicate, paying attention can make big differences in an organization.

A very simple tool to use to make sure you’re engaging in conversation and dialog versus communication or monologue is to THINK before you speak. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m going to say true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?” Let’s explore each one of these elements:

  • True. What you are going to say should be factual. Ask yourself, “Is it factual from multiple perspectives and points of view or just mine?” Check out our article on The Ladder of Inference for assistance with this topic.
  • Helpful. Ensure what you are saying is helpful to the individual or group from their perspective. Ask yourself, “How can I make what I’d like to say productive for the other person(s)? Does what I am going to say move the conversation forward? Is it solution oriented? Does it bring out the best of what is or what could be? Is it grounded in the success of others?”
  • Inspiring. Present your information, knowledge, or feedback in a way that is positive, solution oriented, or motivational. Ask yourself, “Does this make others want to learn more, try something different, or improve in some other way?”
  • Necessary. Ensure what you are saying adds value. Ask yourself, “Am I saying this because I want to or am I saying it because it’s helpful for the other person or group?”
  • Kind. While information or feedback can be constructive, is it presented in a way that is helpful, inspiring, geared toward the other person(s) success, and ultimately brings you closer together in spirit?

Using THINK before you speak can help ensure the conversations you are having are positive for the organization and can also help you get through some of the more difficult conversations encountered in organizational life. While stopping to THINK before you speak might make your use of language a little less effortless at first, it can promote engagement, build relationships and ultimately promote a culture of knowledge sharing and innovation. 

By Contributing Writer – Erica Tetuan, Senior Associate, Changeis, Inc.

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