Want to move the work culture? Change the conversation.

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WITH THE ECONOMY in crisis, most companies are being forced to engage in some pretty difficult conversations with workers. From looming job cuts to rumors of major shakeups, corporate leaders and managers face a significant choice: Sugarcoat the realities or deal with the situation head-on. But, according to workplace experts Jamie and Maren Showkeir, coauthors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment (Berrett-Koehler, $19) and partners at Henning-Showkeir & Associates, Inc., an Arizona–based consulting firm that specializes in increasing business results by creating cultures of accountability, sweet-talking and secrecy are completely counterproductive.

We’re All Adults Here
You can personally choose to sustain the status quo or to break through and create change -- one conversation at a time, say the Showkeirs. Traditionally and historically in organizations, conversations are primarily parent-child, command-control types -- where gaining compliance from people is the goal. But that kind of thinking has outlived its usefulness in today’s touchy global economy, explains Jamie Showkeir. “Cultures have to be created where people are treated like adults, where widespread engagement is the rule so the organization can be flexible.”

You Want the Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth.
Oh yes they can, say the Showkeirs. If it’s a toss-up between secrecy and transparency, choose the latter. They suggest that rather than treating workers like children and hiding the facts, recognize that they’re adults and tell them the truth. For instance:
¦ Tell employees what you know, when you know it.
¦ Disclose the economy’s full impact on the business.
¦ Acknowledge the fear and uncertainty.
¦ Allow people to voice their feelings and viewpoints.
¦ Frame choices for moving forward, and share your own choice.

Don’t Be a Manipulator
In today’s do-or-die workplace, authentic conversations are out and manipulation is in. Four out of five careerists polled by the Showkeirs say that people who manipulate best seem to get ahead, while 50 percent claim that they find it difficult to have honest conversations at work. But according to the Showkeirs, if these everyday conversations -- the invisible driver of workplace culture and business success -- are manipulative, then their true power is squandered. Avoiding manipulation and achieving real change is as simple as making authentic choices and sticking to conversations that confront accountability, avoid excuses, and engage others to create a more collaborative and open work culture.

More Conversation Killers to Avoid

Overpromising: Don’t make unrealistic promises to win people over or to get something in return. “Sure, I can get it to you tomorrow -- maybe even today. I’ve got three other reports due, but I’ll make yours a priority.”

Feigning interest: Don’t fake interest in someone or something to get what you need. “Oh! Are those your vacation pictures? I’d love to see them. And, hey, now that you’re back, when can I get the new numbers?”

Playing to emotions: Don’t appeal to others’ overtly positive or negative emotions. “I know you’re tired of putting in all these extra hours. But just think how proud you’ll feel when the product launches.”

Sucking up: Don’t go over the top and give phony praise to get what you want. “You’re the best writer here, and everything you do is perfect. That’s why I couldn’t ask anyone but you to take this on.”