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How on Earth do you enable good communication in the workplace?

by Andrew Drummond

In a recent podcast conversation about good communication, John Drummond mentions a Harvard study, which reported that only 2% of conversations end when both parties want them to.

“And yet,” John exclaims, leaning forward and waggling a finger in the air, “conversation is the core unit of any workplace!”

As explored in his recently published ‘Human Organisation’ report, this is one of the areas that John’s identified as exemplifying how work-based practices are not based on an understanding of people. And, given the effect of the pandemic on the landscape of remote working, it’s timely to think about how the physical workplace could be redesigned with collaboration and conversation as a core purpose.

Avoiding ‘us and them’

So, let’s talk talking, communicate communication, and converse about conversation.

“It was the days of typewriters and hot metal”

John started his career as a journalist. And, as you might think, a job crafting stories taught him a lot about communication. But not necessarily in the ways you might expect.

“Your character was meant to be stronger if your colleagues beat you up mentally. It was really uncomfortable. There was a real us and them culture. There was us, the editorial staff, and them, the advertising staff. That they were just in it to bring money in, and we were covering the stories. And there were also the workers against…” John leans closer to the microphone and with mock disdain he sneers “…the management.”

“It gave me a real lesson. Managers didn’t manage as if they were trying to get the best out of the people. And unions were so strong that they often acted against the best long-term interest of the newspaper. It just made me think that an us and them culture, either way, wasn’t an effective way of running a business.”

This ‘us and them’ mentality is discussed in behavioural science as ‘in-group and out-group homogeneity’. It’s been found that self-preferencing in-groups can be formed within a matter of minutes, and often on the basis of completely arbitrary and invented characteristics.

Bringing the laughter

It’s also been found that the way we talk about things influences the way we think about things. So perhaps it’s worth considering the way we label and frame ourselves and each other in the context of work.

“We were actually discouraged from laughing or even conversing in the workplace”

Good communication doesn’t just mean successful inter-departmental and inter-hierarchical communication. It also encompasses humour.

“We laugh. And, as young people, we laugh consistently, many, many times during the course of the day. And then at about the age of 23, the number of times we laugh falls off a cliff. As if laughter is inappropriate in the workplace. I remember in one of my first jobs in a bulb-packing factory, we were actually discouraged from laughing or even conversing in the workplace.”

“In the book ‘Humour, Seriously’, there’s an example of how levity can be used in the workplace effectively, and there’s a two-by-two grid. It’s basically got to be funny and appropriate.”

Further extracts from this conversation with John will be published in the form of a podcast in July 2021. So, stay tuned.

And in the meantime, why not let us know: how on Earth do you enable good communication in the workplace?

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