Career corner: Conversations at work

Have you thought about how your conversations impact your work? Sara Hope at The Conversation Space gives us advice on how to have better and more effective conversations.

You can also read the article on the City Parents website.

In my former role as a Senior Manager at a big 4 consultancy, I had the privilege of working with an inspirational man, John.  John didn’t take himself too seriously.  He was honest.  He told me when my shoes didn’t go with my outfit.  He was funny.  And he was someone who truly believed in the gift and joy of learning. Sadly, John is no longer with us, however, the impact of his conversations lives on.

As my performance manager for a number of years, John and I got to know each other really well.  He was interested in me, not just as Sara Hope, Senior Manager, but as Sara Hope, the whole person, the human being.  I got to hear about his love of gliding and remember the stunning photos he had on the wall in his office.  We had a relationship built on mutual respect, and a deep sense of trust.  We got to know each other as people.

What stands out from the conversations we had were the exquisite questions he asked; the ones that made me step right back and think.  He had such a wonderful skill in being able to tread that fine line between being honest with tough messages (like when I wasn’t going to get that promotion I had so desperately wanted), and supporting me return from maternity leave.

He asked what I enjoyed most about my career. He invited me to share my vision board of what my ideal future looked like.  And he was bold enough to have the conversations about me wanting to leave the firm and start a new chapter.  I will never forget him sharing one piece of advice; “Sara, I always update my CV every year – you should do the same.”  I didn’t expect that advice from someone who I thought was supposed to ‘toe the corporate line’ – but it was exactly that ability to share with me his sage wisdom in an honest and relatable way, one person in the world of work to another, that made the difference.

Here at The Conversation Space we believe in strengthening human connections through the power of conversations by helping  people become more human, more skilled and more aware.

Our philosophy and framework, Conversational Wisdom®, has grown out of the award-winning research we published last year, Mastering Conversation. Conversational Wisdom® is having the vision to recognise that the essential elements, the core requisites, for all quality conversations (Being Human, Being Skilled and Being Aware) can be practised and used purposely to achieve a desired conversational outcome.  John embodied Conversational Wisdom® in abundance.

Here are our tips for using conversational wisdom® in career conversations:

  • Being Human’, means sharing meaningful insights to help connect on a more human level with those key stakeholders we don’t know so well. We can often feel vulnerable talking about ourselves in a different way with colleagues we may have known for a long time, but never shared so much with. However, connecting in a more human way can help us talk more about our passions, what we love about our work, and what will make our work more meaningful.
  • Giving focus to ‘Being Skilled’, means we go into our conversations with head, heart and gut. Plan and prepare what you want to say; not just what you’re proud of, but your dreams about the future too.  Be willing to share feedback, think about some critical questions you would like to have answered, and ensure your conversation is a dialogue rather than a monologue.  We know that better questions lead to better answers, which in turn lead to better conversations. And ultimately, it’s these better conversations that will contribute to exceptional careers.
  • To delve deeper into what ‘Being Aware’ in the context of a conversation means, we can learn from practicing our critical career conversations with ‘thinking partners’.  What is our intention in having this career conversation? How would we be showing up in the conversation? And, what thinking could we do in advance to help inform us and have the best conversation possible?

My last reflection and piece of advice when going into a career conversation is to bring your whole self.  My relationship with John helped me to grow the confidence to take some bold steps and forge a path that would otherwise might have remained out of reach.  By bringing more of ourselves to any conversation – the willingness to think out loud when we don’t know the answer, share what we notice, tell our stories and voice our opinion – we are being courageous and in being so, being true to our values and what’s important to us.

By Sara Hope