Steve worked with a colleague whose disrespectful behaviour and verbal abuse went unchecked. Steve never said anything. His colleagues never said anything. And even management avoided the conversation with the office bully. Instead, they complained and gossiped about the problem. Team morale deteriorated until eventually four employees quit, believing the organisation tolerated bullying behaviour.
Then there’s Shauna who recounts a project meeting where a plan was presented and many in attendance noticed an obvious flaw. And yet, instead of voicing their concerns, people whispered about the fatal flaws in the hallway. After several months of work, the project plan indeed failed to meet output goals and lost the funding to continue.
New research from Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, authors of the New York Times bestseller, Crucial Conversations, shows that workplace conversation failures are both rampant and costly.
In a study of 1,025 people, an astounding 72 percent of respondents reported instances when they or others failed to speak up effectively when a peer did not pull his or her weight. 68 percent reported a failure to address disrespect, while 57 percent let peers slide when they skirted important workplace processes.
According to the data, the majority of the workforce is guilty of similar conversation failures. Specifically half waste seven days or more avoiding these crucial conversations. Our respondents estimate their avoidance costs their organisations an average of $7,500 per conversation in lost time and resources.
Instead of speaking up, people report engaging in resource-sapping avoidance tactics including complaining to others, doing unnecessary work and ruminating about the problem. In extreme cases of avoidance, the bottom line is hit especially hard.
The study found that one in five employees estimate that their inability to speak up in crucial moments costs their organisation more than $50,000; and 40 percent estimate they waste two weeks or more ruminating about the problem.
More than 500 respondents shared specific stories of crucial conversations not held, or not held well. The top five most common and costly conversations included:
And beyond the draw-dropping dollar figures, the secondary costs are also alarming. Respondents report that these conversation failures had damaging effects to employee morale and engagement, relationships, the corporate culture and project timelines and budgets.
Grenny and Maxfield say, it’s time organisations stop viewing interpersonal competencies as soft skills and start teaching their people how to speak up. And the data support their views. According to respondents, one in three say their culture does not promote or support holding crucial conversations. And only 1 percent report feeling extremely confident in voicing their concerns in crucial moments.
“This study confirms what we’ve seen over the past thirty years: one of the costliest barriers to organisational performance is unresolved crucial conversations,” Grenny said. “The few who know how to speak up don’t waste time avoiding crucial issues because they have the confidence and skills to raise them in a way that leads to productive dialogue.”
For organizations interested in curbing the costs of failed conversations and to train their employees on how to voice their concerns quickly and effectively, here are some tips:
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