Workplace Communication Overhaul Reaps Unexpected Rewards
When you work in customer service, and all you do is talk to people, going to a workshop on “The Fundamentals of Communication” might not be met with a whole lot of enthusiasm. Except by the boss, who is desperately hoping to bring peace to a team that is entrenched in a battle no side is going to win.
Many folks would resent being a last-ditch effort, being brought in at the end, when mutiny feels imminent. Barbara Wichman, however, loves a challenge, and she is confident that once the results are in, they won’t wait so long again, and she will be welcome back.
Her bright eyes scanned the room as she lay down the foundation for communication, focusing on science, psychology and real-life experiences. The process and activities used during the workshop help the participants see things from a different viewpoint, to understand their role in the communication process and to see the impact of their actions, or lack thereof.
Sure, on paper the workshop looked good, but no one attending expected much to change in a 90-minute lunch workshop. After all, we communicate every day. What was there to learn? Except Barbara, who simply waited for feedback, and the boss who was still hoping for something, anything to change. They didn’t have to wait long.
“Mary* came over the very next morning and what she had to say, shocked her, but not me,” Barbara said. “She told me that the impact had been tremendous, and immediate, but with her husband, not a team member. It was very personal.”
“I had been angry, very angry, every day for a long, long time,” Mary almost whispered. “For years I believed he purposely ignored me. That night, I asked my husband out to dinner, I tried again. This time I listened and responded differently. I used everything I’d learned, as we had discussed in the workshop.”
“For the first time he heard me--we heard each other—and for the first time I had hope. It wasn’t because he was different, but because I was different,” she said, poking a finger at her chest. “I knew right then, without a doubt, that it had saved my marriage. You saved my marriage, even though you had no idea that would happen.”
War in the Workplace
The battle lines had been drawn for more than a year, with two people on either side, firing email volleys that scorched anyone who got in the way. Unfortunately, the manager was constantly in the line of fire as the childish cries of “he did this” or “she did that” demanded she take a side and intervene.
Disruption to the whole team was clear and functionality was a thing of the past.
“Not only did we share the fundamentals of communication in a fresh way,” Barbara said of the workshop, “I also used examples of real life where a sassy remark resulted in so much more than making the person saying it feel better.”
The manager was unaware that the first two in the conflict had set up a lunch right after the workshop. They agreed to talk about what had happened over the past year. The other two quickly did the same thing.
Waving the White Flag
“The result was this--two individuals attending the workshop went to the manager together and told her they had set up a meeting immediately after the workshop to discuss their relationship. They shared what had happened, their realization of how they were negatively affecting those around them, shared what they were working on to repair their relationships and asked for more communication and other training from me because it had been so effective and impactful. They could finally see their roles in the disruption to their relationship and how they were creating a negative team work environment.”
They realized what was happening because of learning they received during the workshop and the powerful examples that had been used, not because fingers were pointed and people made to feel badly, she pointed out, adding that the learning is set up to take people down a path of self-assessment and self-realization.
“They did not like what they had seen in themselves. And they wanted to change and no longer relied on me to be the referee” said the manager. It wasn’t long before two other employees approached the manager and said much the same thing. They, too, had seen the negative impact their behavior was having on the team and took it upon themselves to work out their differences using the tools they learned in the workshop.
The manager remarked that after the workshop she saw immediate change in participants behavior, the team climate and even after 30 days the change held tight, “The tension amongst the staff was no longer present because of the conflict, the team members were helping each other out like never before, the snide remarks had completely stopped and were replaced with positive comments and supportive sharing.
Above all, the complaining emails due to the conflicts had also stopped and the team asked for more workshop training.”
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