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Meaningful conversations can improve office culture

Meaningful conversations can improve office culture
(Dreamstime)

Americans spend a significant portion of their time at work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 34.5 weekly hours. And, the average American will spend 90,000 hours at work over his or her lifetime, Business Insider notes.

Given these figures, it's important to understand why creating a workplace culture that helps employees feel fulfilled will result in greater levels of happiness, as well as improved employee retention rates. This is a complex undertaking, of course, but one effective strategy focuses on the conversations happening at work.

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There are several ways to promote meaningful discussions at your office.

A 2017 State of Company Culture report by Snack Nation found 61 percent of engaged employees said their workplace positively challenged them, while just 12 percent of unengaged workers felt challenged at work. In 2015, a Rackspace survey found that 63 percent of employees believe curiosity plays an important role in business revenue growth.

Meaningful conversations promote intellectual curiosity about the world around us and the part we all play in it. They also encourage dialogue, even in situations where workers attempt to reach a consensus over differing points of view.

An office culture that encourages these conversations empowers employees to learn, feel challenged and explore the world. This fuels achievement, personal growth and company productivity.

Engaging in meaningful conversations about philosophy, economics or even sports or politics forces us to think creatively. We try to bring new points to the discussion that those around us haven't heard. Ideally, we listen to others' arguments with an open and flexible mind.

When they're conducted in good faith, meaningful conversations are energizing. They can expand your worldview, leaving you better informed and more connected with those around you.

Having meaningful conversations at the office gives employees an opportunity to share ideas, thoughts and opinions they might not otherwise have the chance to voice. Particularly in the workplace, where most conversations revolve around work itself, encouraging deeper dialogue on other issues helps promote a new kind of energy and a fresh change of pace.

How much do you really know about your co-workers? Most of us know only superficial facts, such as whether someone is married and what they tend to eat for lunch. Through discussions that go beyond weekend plans, employees get to know one another on a deeper and more meaningful basis.

Knowing what book someone recently read or what they like to learn about in their free time helps colleagues relate to each other better. It fosters deeper relationships. It also empowers you, the business owner, to better understand your employees, their feelings and their beliefs. This helps power decisions about team structure, assignments, and more.

As an individual, you have more of an impact than you might imagine. Start by making deeper conversations a workplace norm.

You can begin this by engaging with other employees in meaningful discussions about a variety of different topics and encouraging them to do the same. These can be conversations about history, current events, scientific studies or just about anything else interesting to you.

Don't shy away from difficult subjects. Remain respectful and approach each conversation from a perspective of true curiosity and openness. You may also want to explore sending out interesting articles to some of your co-workers (as long as the content is thoughtful, not offensive).

Another strategy to encourage meaningful conversation in the workplace is to create a space for it. At one of the startups where I worked, we began a monthly book club for employees. It created space for discussing current events, such as elections or social issues, which helped reassure employees these conversations were not only tolerated but encouraged.

There are lots of strategies to encourage deeper dialogue among your team members. However, it's important to ensure a diversity of ideas are welcomed in these discussions, with a strong emphasis placed on active listening. In today's polarized political climate, opinions are often harshly judged, leaving employees feeling their input isn't welcome.

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Instead, promote judgment-free listening, diversity of thought and an open mind in work conversations. Don't let opinions be discounted or dismissed.

One old adage states you should try to listen twice as much as you talk. Continually emphasize this approach, and you will create a productive and welcoming culture in your office.

John Boitnott is a journalist and digital consultant.

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