Courage shows up in all kinds of places and in all kinds of ways. Maybe you are singer-songwriter Taylor Swift reissuing one of your most influential albums, Red (Taylor version), to take back your story and control your career. Or maybe you find yourself getting more courageous at the keyboard, the type to say things behind your computer security than you would ever say to someone in the face. It’s this intersection of overzealous keyboard courage, Swift fandom, and forgotten humanity that reminds OD professionals of how we can use courage to help our organizations and clients navigate communication.
Swift re-recorded her first six albums so that she could own the Masters. Rumor has it that one of the songs is about her ex-boyfriend, John Mayer, and portrays him in an unflattering light. As a result, a Swift fan sent Mayer a direct message on Instagram saying she was hoping he was choking on something (amid a lot of other colorful languages), as reported. American weekly.
Now, American weekly As a source of information aside, the interesting part of this article was that the sender received a response from Mayer asking if this person really wanted him to die. The fan responded with a video in which she apologized, said sending the message was a challenge and that she didn’t want him to die. Mayer replied that he was fine, wished her luck, and ended by asking if she had thought he could see him and that it could affect him.
While we as OD professionals are unlikely to work with Swift or Mayer, the conclusion is clear. It becomes easier and easier for us to hide behind our toxic keyboard courage when we are separated from people and the effects of our words. But real people exist at the end of our messages, and our words have consequences (whether positive or negative).
A 2020 study in the journal Group decision and negotiation found that participants felt more confident and understanding in face-to-face mediation situations than in online chat mediations. In the face-to-face environment, participants reported feeling more understood as well as understanding and trusting the other party more. Even in a situation like mediation, seeing people reminds us of their humanity and our own, and this leads to more effective communication.
It’s our job as DO professionals to ensure that the humanity of people is not lost in discussions about deadlines and deliverables, especially in remote and hybrid environments. Not having in-person interactions can make it easier to send first-time emails, react quickly to a note so it’s off our plates, or just “tell them how it is.”
Because OD means looking at interventions at the individual and system levels, we have many places to start the conversation (even when it can be difficult) and reinforce humanity in our workplace communications. Below are some brave questions to consider in both buckets.
Questions for individual employees to consider:
How do they know what is expected of employees?
- Do you provide training or written policies, procedures or guidelines?
- Are staff encouraged to use the right method of communication at the right time? In person or with cameras for important or difficult conversations? Call directly after more than three emails on the subject? Send SMS only for urgent questions?
Do people have access to the communication tools they need to do their jobs?
- Are the tools universal throughout the organization?
- Are staff aware of the tools available?
How do we respect people at work as full human beings and not just as employees?
- Do they have the individual support they need?
- How have communication practices been updated to reflect individual needs as teams evolved into a remote or hybrid style?
- How are they invited to share the non-working parts of themselves to complement their humanity (as they are comfortable)?
Questions to consider at the organizational level:
When was the last time we performed an internal communications audit?
- What tools do we use to communicate?
- Who has access?
- Who is in charge?
- What is the level of transparency regarding tools, access and urgency?
Is there an internal communication plan?
- If so, how is the example set for tone and consistency?
- If not, who is leading the way in how people treat each other internally through your communications?
What are our expectations of each other in terms of communication?
- What are our standards for email, virtual meetings, phone calls, SMS, and chat channels?
- How are these standards communicated?
What has been done to replicate face-to-face interactions when you are entirely remote or in a hybrid environment?
- How do you use the cameras?
- Can you use the chat feature to increase participation?
- Is there a designated catch-up or discussion time at the start or end of meetings?
Maybe with a little compassion and understanding we can find a little “Grace (Taylor’s version)”.