How to Have Honest and Genuine Conversations in the Workplace
Are you unable to open up at work? Here are a few tips to help you have honest communication and emotional safety at work.
The following is adapted from Retail Pride, The Guide To Celebrating Your Accidental Career by Ron Thurston
Sometimes you can know someone for years without really knowing them. It could be someone you talk to regularly, someone you even consider a friend. Then one day you discover that a loved one of theirs passed several months ago. Or that they’ve been spending their every Thursday evening volunteering at the food bank.
And you think, How could I not have known?
It happens all the time. It’s disappointing and can lead to us feeling isolated. We’re social creatures by nature, and we want to build genuine human connections.
Honest conversations are how we connect with one another, but it’s easy to keep conversations at the surface without realizing it. Even when we want to say what's in our hearts, it can be challenging to know where to start. Here are some tips to help you open up.
A big reason many of us struggle to have honest conversations is that so much of our communication happens via emails and text messages.
We all benefit from social media because it provides a way to connect and create a community in the absence of in-person contact. But while these digital tools help us stay in touch with each other, essential and emotional conversations are sometimes hard to navigate in a virtual context.
To better connect and have deeper conversations, work to talk in-person. Even FaceTime or Skype can be a big improvement over text and email.
Talk With, Not About
The easiest ways to avoid discussing a difficult topic is to focus on people who are not present. When discussing someone who’s not in the room, you’re looking past the person who’s right in front of you. Don’t miss the opportunity to direct your attention to the experiences and feelings of those who are present.
Speak From Your Heart
We can talk about our favorite subjects all day: fashion, technology, sports, pets, and kids. We can also conceal ourselves behind these topics, never delving more in-depth into why and how they touch our lives in meaningful ways.
Determining when it’s safe to introduce your real feelings into a conversation takes sensitivity, bravery, and a willingness to experiment. If your conversation partner expresses interest in your personal feelings and experiences, you’ll likely feel confident sharing more.
On the other hand, you’ll know quickly if they are not able or willing to go deeper. You can’t—and shouldn’t—force people to have honest conversations with you. Remember that it’s always important to find people with whom you can share how you really feel and speak honestly.
Listen From Your Heart
Just as you must be courageous enough to tell your own stories and express your own concerns, you must also be open enough to listen to someone else’s.
Deep listening isn’t easy. It requires concentration, compassion, and self-awareness. You know how good it feels when you realize someone clearly hears what you have to say, and how bad it feels when the other person seems distracted, more interested in sharing their own perspective, or intent on “fixing” you.
When your conversation partner says something that triggers a strong emotion, whether that be sadness, envy, boredom, or excitement, challenge yourself to stay present rather than insert yourself into the narrative.
When that person struggles with a challenge that seems to have an obvious solution, resist the impulse to give advice. Keep listening. Recognize your own motivations and try to focus on the other person.
Dale Carnegie, the American writer and developer of courses in self-improvement, public speaking, and interpersonal skills, said it best: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
Let Go of Expectations and Keep Practicing
Even if the only thing you want from a conversation with someone else is a deeper connection, you may not get it. Insisting on such an outcome when a person is not interested or emotionally ready isn’t just ineffective, it’s unkind.
It takes courage to initiate authentic and empathetic conversations, to say to someone, “This is how I feel; this is what I need. Would you be willing to go there with me?” Similarly, it takes bravery to let go of what you’ve hoped for in a conversation and not be frustrated.
It also takes practice. The more you seek to empathize with others, the more you will hone your skills. You will learn to approach your honest conversations with greater patience and compassion. Over time, your relationships will feel less like a series of casual chats and more like the authentic connections you need.
For more advice on setting retail goals, you can find Retail Pride on Amazon.