What would you do? Here’s the scenario:
A customer rings up and you take the call. The customer is calling to complain about a report they received from your company. They complain that the report is poorly written and contains a number of factual errors. You check the report and see that it’s written by your manager. What do you do?
‘Saving face’ – it’s a concept that we usually associate with people from Asian cultures. It turns out that New Zealanders also get themselves tied up in knots over preserving social dignity and saving face. Researchers at Victoria University found that we walk a tightrope – divided by being polite at one end; to wanting to get people to do things at the other.
They recorded meetings and conversations at several workplaces in NZ and afterwards, analysed the conversations. If that sounds a bit creepy, it was all in good spirit. What they found was that talking at work always involved some degree of ‘face work’ and nearly always involved power.
And it turns out that we go to extraordinary lengths to avoid egg on our colleague’s face. We use phrases like: ‘we’ instead of ‘you’, I wondered’, ‘what I suggest’, or ‘I’m happy to answer questions’ just to try to get people to do what we want.
We do this linguistic soft pedalling for a reason. In a study on why people get fired at work; 15% of managers cited the reason as lack of competence, the other 85% because of their inability to get along with colleagues.
At BDC, we believe that communication will just keep on getting more important. Workplace trends such as flat organisational structures, greater emphasis on working as a team, greater diversity, and work roles that are less defined and more overlapping means that ‘fitting in’ and learning to get on with others becomes part of doing the work. Talk, in itself, increasingly is the work, not just the means to the end.
The researchers found the most effective communicators are people who are flexible, responsive and reflective. In others words (no pun intended), there is no one right way to communicate with others and it’s important that trainers (like us at BDC!) aren’t prescriptive in the way we help others learn to communicate better, but allow opportunity for people to develop their own, individual style. Learning assertive techniques, tips on body language and tone of voice are crucial to having a tool box of techniques. But where the rubber hits the road is your ability to sit down, be aware of the way you communicate with others, analyse when things go wrong and be deliberate about trying out new ways of communicating. It takes a lot of effort too. Effort to not blame other people, not to complain or moan, but to take responsibility for your side of the deal. Because it takes 2 to argue and everybody has something they can improve on (except me). Only joking.
Reference: Power and Politeness in the Workplace