Call it fear of looking stupid or fear of not fitting in right, for some reason we when work in corporate jobs, we speak like, well, robots.
We formalise our language, use corporate terms and acronyms and strip out anything that sounds like talking. And we ignore the humanity in our colleagues.
The sad thing is that it's hard to get people on board with what you are saying when it's devoid of human emotion.
And yet, we work in workplaces where showing any type of emotion is frowned upon.
That's why 2020 is an interesting year. Okay. Maybe interesting is a little benign. This year has been one crazy, upside down year of shaking everything up and seeing what falls out.
It's also been a year where we have seen a big difference on a global scale of whether our Governments and businesses care about their people or not.
Amidst all of the uncertainty, the pandemic has required businesses to create timely, empathetic communication to help employees know what to do, but to demonstrate that the company has a plan to keep them safe moving forward.
Organisations that have done this well have increased loyalty and trust amongst their staff. Mental health and wellbeing initiatives that have often failed to get traction in the past are now accepted and highly valued.
So if we take a crystal ball and see a world with no COVID, where people can roam freely, without masks and hang out in big crowds, are we going to go back to how we communicated pre-COVID? A world of workplace communication that is mostly devoid of what people are experiencing and feeling. Because in the pandemic, we have all been struggling and experiencing the uncertainty together at the same time. On a global scale. The result has been, for many of us, we have become more empathetic, as we grapple with our own issues and see them reflected in the people around us. Talking about how we are feeling and processing it together has become common place. And healing.
So how do we continue to understand and talk into what people are experiencing rather than the default "business as usual" language? Making sure we still hold people accountable. Because we don't change on our own, we change when we are embedded into supportive groups.
In commercial land, we have always struggled with the tension between delivering (making money) and creating a psychologically or physically safe workplace (not visibly making money).
With the pandemic, we have seen the dichotomy of ensuring people stay well (and not cause our elders a prematurely early death) or keep businesses open. Again, make money versus not visibly make money. And by not visibly making money, I mean saving costs that will result in us making money longer term.
So this is a really opportune time to think about how do we want to treat people around us moving forward? Do we want to go back to formalised comms that's more about compliance and control? Where the subtext is that people are stupid and do the wrong thing. Or do we want our communication to understand the human condition? That sometimes we make mistakes, need mental health support or a shoulder to cry on.
Leaving our emotions, or humanness at the office door, is no longer appropriate or healthy. Today, it isn't even possible working from home where everyone can see your cat or child demanding a cuddle, food or both.
When people thrive, companies thrive. When a manager doesn’t understand that sometimes goals can’t be met, it shows a lack of empathy. It puts people offside when they worked their butts off to reach the goal. Today has become all about caring - creating an environment where peoples' emotions are recognised and accepted as part of work life. And the outcome is that people feel understood and accepted for who they are. Which is so important for our brain to relax, trust the situation and commit hard to achieving goals.
And sometimes, this can be a simple tweak in our language. Instead, of saying "What do you think about this?', we can ask "How do you feel about this?" Sometimes our feelings unlock solutions in a way that give us insights that are far deeper than our surface thoughts (or what we think people want us to say).
In some ways, COVID has been a gift to understand people's situation and to care more about how others are feeling because we feel more vulnerable than before. It's opened our hearts. And now we have the opportunity to continue to open them. And not making the clear personality delineation between being at work or home.
And so my question for you is, what can you do to ensure that you stay tapped in to how your people are feeling, so that you can continue to build trust and feelings of goodwill? How can you write and speak, so that people know that you care and understand them?