How work colleagues speak to each other, what words they use, what mood prevails, and the structure of the dialog have a lot to do with achieving reliable outcomes. Language trumps control. HOW the communication is initiated and conducted is more important than WHAT is communicated. How well people actually work together is all about the “soft stuff” – trust, engagement, motivation, commitment, etc. Organization culture is made manifest in its language. The most powerful way to effect the culture of an organization is to change the quality of the dialog. An organization is a network of person-to-person work conversations during which information and energy is exchanged. Like cells in your body, the quality of these “work-atoms” determines the effectiveness of the whole. Attending to and influencing work conversations can help transform culture and improve collaboration.
Managers spend the largest portion of their time in conversation, and making those conversations effective is by no means simple. Think of conversations as a sophisticated “technology” for getting things done, not just a trivial everyday act. The starting point is the recognition that conversation is not just about sharing information. A big part of conversation is about making commitments. You ask me to do something by some date. I reply that I will do it. That kind of promise is the key to coordination and getting things done.
An entirely new genre of software tools is now available that combines task with relationship management and helps users manage their work conversations. Products like our CommitKeeper, act as an active facilitator to guide work colleagues through an effective conversation that focuses on results. The software helps set the mood by leveling the playing field between the requester and the performer and then suggests the words and actions that help the user navigate a closed-loop delivery conversation. Most importantly, the software guides the parties to create sincere commitments with specific due dates. Commitments drive actions that lead to results.