We've all been there, the organisation/manager you are working for is under pressure to perform or a significant restructure is in the cards and your autonomy and/or career are under threat. The number one action leaders should be taking is communicating however, this is where they are often failing. Non-existent or poor communication is rampant across organisations leading to a decline in engagement, performance and most significantly trust in leadership.
James, a long-time employee and marketing manager of a large global corporate was told that he would be moving with the sale of his business, to the company that bought it. That was the communication. After fifteen years of service he was told what was going to happen, not consulted, not comforted, not considered. His direct line manager avoided eye contact with him in the office for the next few weeks, the managing director said nothing as he passed him in the corridor. Really? Is this how loyal, hard-working, long-time employees should be treated? Or was there a better way of going about this?
Rita ~ a senior manager is under pressure from the new GM to achieve an unrealistic sales target; she starts micromanaging her tenured team. Her expectations become irrational and inconsiderate, she appears stressed, tired and on edge. The team begin consoling one another and then they begin to leave or worse yet, switch-off. Could Rita have approached this differently?
In both of these real-world scenarios, the communication was poor and there's a good chance through further scrutiny that the ratio of positive-to-negative verbal and non-verbal behaviour was low. Social psychologists have been studying positive and negative interactions in the workplace (and marriages) and can with incredible accuracy, predict workplace performance (and divorce). Calculating the positive-to-negative ratio (PNR) is the method they utilise to develop their predictions and it's essentially the amount of positive interactions compared to negative. Studies have shown that in marriages the magic number is 5:1 and in the workplace high performing teams have a ratio of 5.6:1.
So looking back on James' experience what approach would have offered the best outcome? Open and honest discussions with James (and his team) surrounding the sale of the business would have been a good start. Including the team in these conversations would have given them a sense of inclusion and that would have contributed to increased engagement and feelings of worthiness. When there is silence surrounding an issue or a change it leaves people feeling insignificant, helpless and under-valued. It's understood that until a 'deal is struck' on the sale, confidentiality is paramount however, once that has taken place communication is a priority often ignored. Approaching change from a positive perspective could have been executed through a high PNR as well as the 4-D model of appreciative inquiry which offers a platform of appreciation, empowerment, inspiration, and positive change.
On reflection, Rita could have sat down with the team, discussed the challenges and collaborated to reach a positive approach. Rita needed the skills of self-awareness and self-compassion prior to communicating, so that she could connect with her values and her strengths, in order to offer an authentic approach to the reality the team was facing.
According to professor of psychology and author Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues, negativity restricts and breeds mistrust whereas positivity leads to expansion and broadening of thought-action repertoires.
With this knowledge of positive-negative ratios, leaders should start paying closer attention to their communication and the interactions they have [as well as across their organisations]. Increasing positive emotions and communications can lead to many things, above all significant increases in well-being, performance and trust in leadership.
Definitely something to consider when change and uncertainty are endemic.