“No more evasive answers. No more coy innuendos…” (Spoof on an Apple gadget and the perfect relationship)
by Lois Zachary
I spend a lot of time talking and writing about the need for good conversation. I see it as the foundation of building trust in relationships. It was no wonder then that Sherry Turkle’s Op Ed piece in the New York Times (April 21, 2012) caught my eye. She makes the point that technology has created a “flight from conversation.”
Texting has replaced conversation. It enables us to connect with one another and yet remain unconnected. Many of us have become so habituated to device-generated interactions that workplace conversation has been reduced to a transaction. Despite all the research that indicates multi-tasking is counterproductive, multi-tasking has become a workplace expectation.
In Leadership Is A Conversation (June 2012, Harvard Business Review), the authors make the point that it is the lack of genuine conversation that is contributing to eroding trust in the workplace. Leaders need to discipline themselves to engage in conversation so that it is not one-way messaging but advances conversation and ideas throughout the organization.
Without conversation we lose the opportunity to create trust on many levels. For example, people come to our mentoring training sessions having worked in the same business for years. They know “facts” about each other, connect frequently at meetings or through office text and email but what they present and see of each other is their edited selves.
Turkell says, “Texting and e-mail allows us to present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body.” Colleagues know each other in spaces and places but don’t really know each other from a place of deep connection. In other words, they know about each other but don’t know each other. It is hard to build trust without an authentic relationship.
Relationships take work, and they take time to develop. Building, establishing, and sustaining require good conversation. Mentoring conversations are conversations of connection. A mentoring relationship without this kind of connection clearly misses the mark.
The old notion of mentoring was not concerned with connection as much as it was with the transfer of knowledge and know-how. Transfer of knowledge represents a more impersonal and autonomous way of knowing. We now know that for learning to be effectively sustained, two conditions need to occur:
- The learner needs to be engaged in the learning process and
- The learning needs to be connected to the learner and to his or her life experiences.
Connected knowing emerges out of a relationship between self and other that can only grow out of ongoing and deepening conversations between a mentor and mentee.
How can you advance the conversation?
1. Think about the last time you had a really good conversation. See if you can identify a dozen descriptors for your good conversation. If you are like most people, you will come up with words like listening, trust, openness, honesty, respect, safety, optimism, integrity, engagement, reflection, and learning.
2. Reflect on other conversations you’ve had recently. Have you short-changed yourself when it comes to having good conversations?
When time and work pressures become an issue, conversations often become non-conversations and shift to a transaction. Avoid this trap by using your personal criteria for a good conversation once a day for 21 days and it will become a habit. You will be amazed by what you learn about yourself and others!
Lois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, LLC. and an international expert on mentoring and leadership development. She has written several books on mentoring. The newest one is The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. Other books include Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide, and The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You.