The five pillars of authentic conversation part 2

Tim Baker


written on October 4, 2017

Building for the future and strengthening work relationships entails showing appreciation to your staff while challenging unhelpful behaviour.

Last month, I shared the first two pillars of authentic communication – Establish a trusting relationship and Agree on expectations. This article will cover the other three: Show genuine appreciation, Challenge unhelpful behaviour and Build for the future. These five characteristics make up the Authentic Conversation Framework.

Show genuine appreciation

Surveys consistently indicate that employees don’t receive enough appreciation for the work they do. It’s a significant reason why people ultimately leave their jobs to work somewhere else. Yet for some reason many, leaders find it difficult or unimportant to show their appreciation. It’s baffling. Showing appreciation, doesn’t cost a cent, whereas failing to do so can be much more damaging.

In the recent article Appreciation at Work: Two Major Misconceptions Leaders Hold, psychologist and author Paul White, highlights two fallacies about appreciation in the workplace. One misconception is that the purpose of showing appreciation is to make people feel good about themselves at work. This is essentially a delusion, because you can’t make people feel good; they’re the ones who make that decision. Leaders can cheer people up, but only temporarily. The employee will soon re-adjust their attitude back to the way they decide to feel, so this isn’t necessarily a valid or effective reason for showing appreciation.

The other misconception is that by showing appreciation, productivity increases. If the only reason the leader is expressing appreciation is to boost productivity, it won’t work. Showing appreciation for genuine reasons, without an ulterior motive to manipulate increased performance, is undoubtedly good for business. White suggests the following benefits, which either directly or indirectly increase productivity:

  • increased daily attendance
  • decreased tardiness
  • faithful adherence to following policies and procedures
  • reduced conflict in the office
  • increased productivity
  • more satisfied customers.

Challenge unhelpful behaviour

Unhelpful behaviour can be classified in two ways. The first  is  one-off incidents. They may be without precedent,  but are nevertheless significant enough to warrant the leader’s attention. Incidents like this could be an uncharacteristic outburst in the office that upsets several people, or  someone losing their cool with a customer over the telephone. It might even be a failure to communicate vital information in a timely manner to a colleague, which could seriously hamper them from doing their job properly. Although not regular occurrences, these situations are obstructive.

The second kind of unhelpful behaviour is repetitive incidents where the same themes occur. Patterns of unhelpful behaviour include excessive negativity in meetings, apparent sexism through inappropriate joke telling, or constant tardiness. In these cases, a track record is forming that needs to be broken. Leaders have a responsibility to challenge these behaviours, whether they be a one-off occurrence or on-going.

Build for the future

This final pillar is connected to challenging unhelpful behaviour. Troubling incidents such as those mentioned above serve as a reference point to the past. But the purpose of any constructive conversation is to build for the future; to transform the past poor conduct into improved behaviour.

Despite how it may appear on the surface, challenging unhelpful behaviour is as much about planning for the future as it is learning from the past. Drawing attention to past incidents, the leader’s focus should be on rectifying behaviour for the future. What needs to change? How can the person be supported to make those changes?

Building for the future is about looking ahead, which entails planning. Constructive conversations are about agreeing to make changes in the future, not dwelling on the past. Critical incidents are used to exemplify the changes needed. Leaders need to strike the right balance between discussing past indiscretions and future aspirations.

These five pillars are not specific conversations themselves. Rather, they are fundamental requirements of all conversations. Yet all of us in HR have experienced, either directly or indirectly, people violating one or more of these pillars. Conversations that are inauthentic are less effective.

Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and author. 

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