Why Conversational Culture Matters to You

by Dr Rachel Collis

When you are thinking about career change it is important to get a sense of clarity around yourself (your strengths, values, purpose etc.) and also the work environments that works best for you (Am I a natural entrepreneur? Would I be best working for a charity? Do I want a portfolio career?).

In this post, we will look at one important but often neglected aspect of workplace environment – conversational culture.

Why does this matter in career change? Because the conversations you have at work can make the difference between a job you love or hate. Getting clear on what conversational culture works for you can help you know what you are looking for, which makes you much more likely to find it!

In ‘Improving the Quality of Conversations’, Lynda Gratton and Sumantra Grosahl describe four types of conversation people tend to engage in at work:

  • ‘Dehydrated talk’ – Low analytical rationality/Low emotional authenticity
  • ‘Intimate exchange’ – Low analytical rationality/High emotional authenticity
  • ‘Disciplined debate’ – High analytical rationality/Low emotional authenticity
  • ‘Creative dialogue’ – High analytical rationality/High emotional authenticity

In analytical/rational conversations people explore facts and debate ideas. In emotionally authentic conversations people share their assumptions and beliefs, their emotions, their hopes and fears. The four types of conversation combine these two factors to different degrees.

Teams that engage in a lot of dehydrated talk – where people go through ritualised exchanges with no real interest in understanding each other and where challenge and exploration of the facts are avoided – tend not to be great places to work!

Teams with a lot of dehydrated talk feel a bit like this desert wasteland

Teams with a lot of dehydrated talk feel a bit like this desert wasteland

People will vary as to their preferences of how much time is spent in the other three types of conversation – intimate exchange; disciplined debate and creative dialogue.

Take a moment to think about the roles that you have enjoyed and the roles you have been unhappy in. What sorts of conversations did people have?

This type of detailed exploration of what works for you, has a number of benefits:

  • You know what you are looking for – which is incredibly helpful when you are engaged in a job search.
  • You can articulate clearly what matters to you, so that people in your network know what you are looking for and can help you.
  • Your CV and LinkedIn profile use language that appeals to the employers who value the same things as you – you sound like their type of person.
  • You become more attuned to signs that a particular workplace is or isn’t somewhere you will thrive.

You are unlikely to find an organisation that is perfect for you (sorry about that) but you can get a sense of whether the fit is good enough for you to be happy. If the fit is close enough and people are open to learning and changing; it may also be possible for you to gradually shape increasingly authentic and/or analytical conversations within your team.

“Courage is the willingness to speak the truth about what you see and to own what you say.” Seth Godin

Career Change, Career Development, Career Management, Developing Coaches - ACT Training, Executive Coaching, Interview coaching

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