Does conversation in the workplace consume most of your energy?

Most business leaders I work with don't view conversation as the operating system of organizations. And yet, they tell me they spend over 80 percent of their day in conversation.

That's more than three-quarters of a work day spent in meetings, video conferences, teleconferences, phone calls, and email conversations.

If you're doing the math, that leaves only 20 percent to do all the other critical tasks required of a leader. But what if all the conversations you're having are depleting your energy to get them done?

In the working world, there are two primary types of conversation. One type is a major energy-sucker. The other keeps you and your employees invigorated, refreshed, and able to focus on other important things.

So what are they--and how can you do more of the latter?

Repair vs. prevent conversation

Let's say you are considering implementing a new process in your organization.

People are nodding their heads and giving their corporate salute; however, your "spidey senses" tell you some people have deep concerns about the process.

Repair conversation
You decide to ignore your spidey senses; you're implementing that new process, regardless.

Three months go by--and the process is stalled in its tracks. Why? People have been covertly or even overtly obstructing its implementation.

You now need to invest a lot of time dismantling resistance and cynicism, engaging in conversations to repair any damage done, and (hopefully) get your project back on track.

Prevent conversation
In an alternate universe, you pay attention to your intuition from the very beginning. Well before implementation, you ask questions to draw out people's misgivings--identifying and addressing the real source of discomfort before it takes on a life of its own.

Your next course of action is based on the feedback you receive--with little to no resistance on the part of others.

Emotional toil of conversation

By contrast, repair conversation sounds exhausting, doesn't it?

That's because repair conversation takes ten times the psychological energy to recover from misunderstandings you could have prevented in the first place.

When you are frequently trying to put out fires, this can have a huge impact on your ability to predict outcomes, be innovative, make smart decisions, and execute on tasks--or, in other words, be a true leader.

And not only that--repair conversations are exhausting for all involved parties. This does nothing to improve or sustain employee engagement.

Turning it all around

If you feel you're spending more time in firefighting mode than anything else, take solace in brain science: conversation, done effectively, can eliminate the need for repair conversations--and actually be a natural energy booster.

The key words above, though, are "done effectively."

To implement an ongoing system of energizing, preventative conversation into the workplace, the following three criteria must be met:

  • Conversation must be face-to-face. It may not be always possible, but face-to-face conversation is best for energizing others. Science shows that, when put face-to-face, leaders' and employees' emotions can be "contagious"--essentially, each person can regulate the other's emotions (and, subsequently, energy levels).
  • Conversation must be meaningful. Leaders must ensure they demonstrate value, respect and care within the conversation--paying close attention, acknowledging what the other person is saying, and showing genuine interest.
  • Conversation must be frequent. This criterion is especially important for eliminating the need for repair conversation. Concerns talked about only at engagement survey time (i.e., once a year) eventually snowball into "crucial" or "difficult" conversations that take up multiples of energy, time and mind-space. Frequent conversations help catch issues before they become calamity-based.

No time to talk?

Many leaders say they don't have time for face-to-face, meaningful, frequent conversation. Well guess what? They are already engaged in conversation 80 percent of the time--and suffering ongoing energy depletion as a result.

By making short, simple, everyday conversation a natural priority, leaders eventually realize that they don't have time not to do it.

Why? Because by removing the need for repair conversations, this frees up more time--and personal energy--to focus on other critical aspects of the job.

In other words, now is the time to make the shift to a workplace that prioritizes preventative conversations.