In one of my office jobs competition, pressure to do more with less, and the pursuit of financial results reigned. In that competitive work culture most emotions were not welcome and sensitivity was seen as a deplorable weakness.
Although no one talked about it openly, you could see and feel that many people were unhappy and didn’t feel safe to express themselves. Conversations were often charged with underlying anger, frustration, desperation or depression, and rapport building was not particularly encouraged during work time. I didn’t feel safe in that environment to show up fully as my authentic self.
I’ve never been one for small talk so the lack of real conversations left me feeling alone. Working long hours in a stressful, unfriendly environment was draining. I was so tired by the end of the day that I could hardly offer much to the conversations at home with my family. I felt guilty and empty. I yearned for a better balance and a sense of peace and fulfilment at work. I was dying to have real conversations with other people.
I did have a few real conversations at work in those days. Once, a colleague invited me into her office to talk. She told me how awful she was feeling at work to the point of being physically ill. Fortunately for both of us, she’d had the courage to open up, allowing me to do the same. In that moment, we were able to be honest and share our true feelings about the pain of working in an environment where you don’t feel safe or free. We were no longer alone.
A competitive work culture doesn’t create space for meaningful conversations to take place. When we don’t feel safe, we close ourselves off to others. We wear a metaphorical mask to play a more neutral role or play the part we’re “expected to” play in the interest of survival. In doing so we mask the part of ourselves that we feel won’t be accepted.
When we don’t feel safe we hide our authentic self and our unique talents, wisdom and creativity are suppressed.
In a competitive work culture, it’s so easy to go through days, weeks, or even months without connecting with anyone on a deeper level – unless we make a concerted effort to do so. In such a culture taking the risk of being authentic, speaking the truth, or sharing how you feel requires real courage, but when we’re able to connect with just one person, we realise we’re not alone.
We can make room for real conversations to happen for ourselves and others. We can also speak up about the benefits of positive work cultures.
What’s a real conversation?
Perhaps it’s something different for each one of us. For me, a real conversation is meaningful and moving: it has meaning and it also moves me on an emotional level. Real conversations speak to my mind and my body. For example, I may feel a fluttering in my stomach or my heart begin to throb. Real conversations are about things that matter to us, such as our concerns, fears, desires, celebrations and dreams. Real conversations create a fuller experience than say a transactional exchange of words without any emotional or personal content.
We can initiate real conversations by being curious and asking a question, by sharing our feelings or sharing a personal experience.
Real conversations become possible when two (or more) people are willing to take the risk of being open with each other. Openness and trust are needed to share something that‘s truly meaningful to us. Kindness and compassion are needed to listen and receive the other person’s message.
You probably have several conversations a day and many more in a week.
How many of those conversations are real conversations for you?
How many of those conversations will you remember?
I know a lot of people don’t feel safe to express their true thoughts and feelings in their work-space. Looking back on my own experience in a competitive work culture I’ve also wondered, “Was I truly as unsafe as I felt I was at the time? Did I care too much about what other people might think of me? Could I have made things better if I had dared to speak up more about the things that bothered me?
I can’t remedy the past, but I can learn from it and alter my way of being and communicating in the present. I can shape the future in each of my present moments by creating a safe space for me and others to foster rapport building through real conversations.
All we have to do is be open, compassionate, ready to listen and receive.
What if you decided that today, or right now is a very good time to listen deeply to someone else or share something personal that’s important to you?
The opportunities for real conversations are all around us if we’re willing to take a little risk and open our hearts. As you go through your day, be ready to listen and respond to others’ needs. Listen with curiosity, let go of judgment, and respond with compassion.
Real conversations are more about intent than content.
When you set an intention to listen and communicate with an open heart, you offer the best of yourself to the other(s). A genuine smile communicates this very well. The other person may not always return the smile, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t see it or that it didn’t have an affect on them.
Words are sometimes used like a shield to hide behind and protect ourselves from potential judgment, criticism or embarrassment (because of deep-seated fears about our own inadequacy or imperfections).
Have the courage to communicate your true nature!
Real conversations allow us to know and trust each other. They can lead to fruitful collaboration and co-creation. Real conversations have the power to bring people together, to create understanding, identify shared values, develop trust in our colleagues, and even turn them into friends.
Real conversations help us to unite for a common goal and build a better future together. They help us to feel more alive, connected, O-N-E with each other. They allow us to thrive together.
Real conversations are the ones we remember most…because they elicit a change in us.
Together we can change the world through real conversations!
Questions for Reflection and Journaling:
- What’s a real conversation for you?
- What question(s) are you dying to ask?
- What problem(s) are you wanting to solve?
- What are you wanting to say, but haven’t had the courage to say it yet?
- What are you yearning to do but haven’t had the courage to do it yet?
- Who are you yearning to be?
- Who are you curious to learn more about?
- What are you waiting for?
Take action this week: Set an intention to initiate real conversations at work or anywhere. You can even try it with a stranger on the bus or train.
Let me know how this works for you: Allison@voiceforlifecoaching.com
I’d love to hear from you!