Because we are seeing more and more companies experiment with the flexible model that is hybrid work, the kind of deliberate and compassionate discussions that result from conscious communication are more important now than ever before.
Jennifer Moss puts it plainly in this piece at Harvard Business Review when she writes that, because of the pandemic, we did nothing less than face "our collective mortality" for the past two years, which has radically changed us. When we rub our eyes, stumble our way forward, and take a clear-eyed look now at the world of work, we see that hybrid work has set down its suitcase and is here to stay. Though some people are eager to return to an office setting, 70% of employees say that they would prefer a hybrid or remote working style. As but one example, a July 2022 Cisco study finds that hybrid work schedules are prevalent in the federal workforce. Such fundamental shifts require us to change how we communicate.
Let's say your business is one that can accommodate your ability to work wherever is most productive for you. This means that some of your team members are in the office, some of you are remote, and perhaps others of you are on the go. If we aren't careful — that is, conscious of the dynamics involved — this can result in communication declines.
Conscious communication is all about leaning on your own self-awareness toolkit so that you can clearly communicate what you need from others. It is a multilayered process that includes, among other things:
- The ability to take responsibility for your emotions.
- An awareness of your body language and what it conveys.
- Deliberately unbiased, neutral perspectives that avoid immediate judgment of members of your team.
- The constructive management of difficult conversations and the courage to face them — with the understanding that there is tremendous value to healthy debates.
Conscious communication is fundamentally about accepting the responsibility we all have to communicate well. And it is about asking for what you want and need — in the form of requests, not demands. Conscious communication can help team members in the workplace feel safe and more willing to provide and receive feedback.
In a work environment that no longer centers on just one gathering place, conscious communication can foster:
The care and nurture of connections
Conscious communication is a mindful process. This means we make efforts to be present in the moment, as opposed to running on automatic during conversations with team members. This results in better listening. If we are genuinely attempting to understand another person's perspective, after all, we must open ourselves up to hearing what they have to say without judgment and without formulating responses before we have truly processed all they have to say. And if we succeed in listening mindfully and without judgment, this opens the door to stronger connections. Team members who understand one another have an easier time of asking for — not demanding — specific actions that will meet their needs.
In a hybrid world, rekindling these connections is vital and often feels more challenging. Team members can work together, however, to find (and balance) both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools and channels that work best for them; communicate with clarity their expectations around communication; and continually audit communication practices to ensure everyone's voice is being heard.
Accountability and robust feedback
An important part of conscious communication is giving and receiving feedback with compassion and empathy. Feedback is given with the intention of informing and supporting, not condemning, and is given with what are called "I" statements ("I feel frustrated when you interrupt me," as opposed to "you never listen") and observations ("I appreciated it when you let me communicate all my points without interruption"). Conscious communication also involves active listening and the use of open-ended questions: not "were you frustrated by that?" but "how did you feel when that happened"?
When giving and receiving feedback, accountability is key. In a hybrid workplace, we lose the everyday contact we saw in the traditional office setting. We must be conscious of the need to create a culture that continues to collect feedback and follows up on it. Whether it's through one-on-one meetings, team meetings, online forms, or even a Slack channel, there are many ways to foster accountability in a hybrid setting so that we can improve employee morale and productivity.
Our ability to embrace change more readily
What is life if not a constant series of changes? Team members react differently to change, which can lead to periods of uncertainty. And the ways in which our workplaces today are changing are simply unprecedented. The COVID-19 pandemic has utterly reshaped how and where we work in this country.
Elements of conscious communication can help us better adjust to change — and see it as an opportunity rather than a hardship. Our willingness to communicate with the intention of building healthy relationships with team members; our deliberate, thoughtful communication practices; our focus on feedback loops and taking accountability for our actions; and so much more about conscious communication means we are listening with presence. And having team members who listen to one another in such ways results in a workforce that is ready to harness change in times of transition with confidence and mutual respect.
At Insight Experience we teach a balanced approach to stakeholder communication that includes advocacy and inquiry, and it involves the kind of active listening that conscious communication requires. Head here to read more about it.
Julie Danielson is an Associate Consultant who works as a project manager across various learning experiences. She is also a member of the marketing team. You can often find her copyediting, creating content, and researching publishing opportunities.