8 great tips for conversation and listening

browningyork Browning York News, Communication lessons, Leadership communication, Organisational culture, Public sector, University, Voluntary sector

Last week I enjoyed having conversation with a room full of my fellow internal communications professionals at the Public Sector Internal Communications Conference. I came away inspired with ideas and tips to use with my clients.

Rocket taking off from launchpad
I liked this quote from Mandy Dryden, Head of Internal Communications at the Department of Health and Social Care, because it sums up the fact that internal comms can seem straightforward, but the devil is certainly in the detail.

The key themes from the conference were the importance of facilitating conversation, genuine listening and evaluating the meaningful impact of communication on your purpose as an organisation.

Here are a few of my favourite ideas from the day:

  • Make listening an active part of your internal communications strategy. Be explicit about who you’re going to listen to (broader than your ‘usual suspects’ or the people who always agree with the leaders). Have processes in place for gathering feedback, really listening to what they are telling you and what it means, not just writing down the words.
  • Done well, listening is a skilled and time-consuming activity, so make sure that you have the resources in place (human and tech), with the right skills and the permission to spend the time listening and analysing. The only way to use what people are telling you to inform decisions is to understand what they are saying, inside and out. Read more in Jim Macanamara’s work on the architecture of listening in organisations.
  • Create as many opportunities as possible for people from different parts of your organisation to work together, so that they get to know each other better as individuals and feel part of a shared endeavour as a bigger team. This could be a particular project, such as a celebration of your organisation’s anniversary, or a less formal opportunity such as a charity abseil.
  • To have credible conversations with your colleagues about the internal communications which will work best for them, you need to evaluate what you are doing. Use the data and insight you have about what your audiences are interested in, which channels they prefer and who they respect and trust.
  • Gathering input for evaluation of your internal comms takes time. You need to identify what is going to be the most meaningful for you e.g. what are the top 5 articles for the month, which 5 topics have generated the most discussion on Yammer, what has your poll of the week told you. Then analyse and interpret that input. Investing the time may be painful at first, but it is worth it to make internal communication easier in the long term.
  • If you’re starting a conversation across your organisation about a particular topic and you know that it will generate a lot of questions, make sure that the relevant subject expert who can respond to those questions has booked out time in their diary. Doing this before you’ve even started the conversation means that as soon as the questions come up, responsive comms can start – this is much more engaging than an employee having to wait hours, days or even weeks to get an answer.
  • Put together a structured way to support managers and leaders to have a conversation with their teams about current hot topics at your organisation. It’s not about information-giving, with a set of slides that they can present; it’s about prompts for discussion, with top tips about how to encourage others to speak and questions to get the conversation started.
  • Providing open forums for employees to discuss topics, suggest ideas and disagree is a great way to treat everyone as an adult. The conversation will be going on in kitchen corners anyway, so it is far more engaging to give a place where it’s OK to openly say what you think. You can learn from all perspectives, not just people who agree with you.

What is the conversation like at your organisation? If you would like help in working out how to get meaningful conversations underway, please get in touch to see how I could help.

Until next time
Sarah