I was reading Wally Bock's post about workplace safety. Wally was stimulated by an article from the Wall Street Journal that talked about the need for bosses to confront troubled employees. (This was written partially as a result of the tragic situation at Virginia Tech).
Wally took it further and said, rightfully, that bosses ought to be talking regularly with all employees because it contributes to productivity. There's more than enough research and experience to validate that.
But how about the importance of conversation as preventive action?
Humans are built for relationships. Being connected in some way to others makes us feel alive and part of the greater whole. If you're reading this now, it's partially because you want to be connected. I know that's one of the reasons I write. And when the comments start rolling in--even if they disagree with me--I get an increased sense of well-being as a result of the conversation. It indicates that I am in relationship with someone else. That I am alive.
Ongoing conversation between people at work serve at least two important functions:
1. They help enhance our sense of worth and life by being an accepted and contributing part of a community
2. They give people cues as to how our life is going
The first is literally a preventive function. By being included--or "part of the conversation"--our need to belong is met, at least in part. When our most basic needs are being satisfied, we feel more satisfied.
The second provides a chance to ring the alarm in the minds of our colleagues. If something is wrong, they may very well sense it and listen for the level of severity. When we've established relationships through conversation, we're more likely to believe there is help in the form of those around us.
But without ongoing interaction, neither can take place.
And that's why I think workplace conversations are important. I know that, in the case of performance conversations, a lot of bosses find it difficult to confront poor performers. Yet think about your answer to this question:
Who are the people in your life who you trust the most?
They are the ones who care enough to confront you. Who say no when they mean no. Who tell you when you're not performing up to par. And that's why you trust them.(You usually know when you're not doing things well and lose respect and trust when not confronted). They're also the people who celebrate your successes and give encouragement.
Tragedy and harm have been part of life since the beginning of time, and will continue to be. How many incidents does it take before people will understand that someone deranged and bent on destruction will succeed. But those incidents, when compared with the number of happenings during the course of one's lifetime, are not the norm. They are, however, huge in their impact, publicized in every medium, and sad beyond belief.
What makes them so sad and horrific lies behind the question we immediately ask:
What we're really baffled about is how someone --like us--could have fallen so out of relationship with fellow humans as to do something heinous. Why couldn't this person see the possibilities in life? Why didn't someone see this coming? In some cases, why didn't I see this coming?
Most of all, I think the deepest question becomes, "Why is life--and its relationships--so frail?"
And what do we do to cope? We starting talking about it. We have conversations. When faced with tragedy, we strengthen our current relationships and build new ones.
Walls can keep people out and alarm systems will warn us that danger is imminent.
But healthy relationships built through healthy conversations offer us internal security. They remind us that we're alive and that tomorrow we have people who will help us through another day. They build the kind of community that knows when one of its members is having a bad day and can lift that person up instead of letting them fall down.
Conversations are good for productivity. They mean something to the people doing the work. And they can mean a lot more--even safety and security.
Would today be a good day to start the conversation that you've been putting off?