Making meaning through the lost art of conversation

Engagement levels are down because, frankly, we have lost trust in our governments, in our organisations, in our leaders, and in ourselves. This trust problem is enormous.

  • Only 40% of people aged 35 – 64 trust businesses to do what is right in North America and Europe. The Edelman 2009 Trust barometer

  • Less that 33% of HR professionals had “high confidence” in their leaders to assure organisational success. Even fewer leaders had that same level of “high confidence” PDI Survey 2009

  • Up to 40% of people state they are looking to change jobs within the next year (65% in the US) 2010 Right Management Survey Trust barometer

  • Surveys show that between 40% - 60% of people feel “disengaged” at work (Harvard Business Review May 2014)

We are lost in our search for meaning. Our confidence is shattered. It is as if the “mid-life crisis” is setting in for all people of all ages. We may see this as inevitable if we are as fatalistic as the “double-dip” economists. However, if we draw from the well of hope, then we need to do something about it. This is where a simple intervention may indeed be remarkably effective.

Would managers and leaders in our organisations really make a difference to levels of engagement if they stopped hiding behind their computer screens and Smart Phones and started having more conversations with those around them in the workplace? The research evidence is pretty compelling from Jonathan Winter’s highly informative Career Innovations Research findings (

  • 40% of people at work felt they had an issue they wanted to discuss with their line manager but felt unable to do so.

  • Employees who feel unable to have “engaging conversations” with their line manager are THREE TIMES more likely to leave in the next year

  • On staff surveys, between 40 - 55% of employees do not feel they no longer know their organisational strategy or objectives.

Simple as it may seem, perhaps the most effective tool you have as a leader is “the art of conversation”. Not one-sided diatribes or spurious certainties, but conversations which involve leaders and their teams listening to each other then framing their own comments with less certainty and more humility in a collaborative attempt to articulate what is happening, to strive to make meaning once more. “Making sense” is hard, in what is often a senseless world, but good managers try to “make meaning” even in difficult times.

As Dylan Thomas put it;

“The art of conversation is dead - or at least lying down to have a good rest “.

Time to wake up the art of conversation.

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