Gordon Ramsay and Alan Sugar are famous for it. EastEnders soap stories convey it with delight. And Jeremy Paxman seems convinced it’s the only way to get information during a political interview. Wherever you look on TV, business people, interviewers and characters in dramas run around shouting, swearing and arguing like children.
It makes interesting TV but how would you react to Gordon Ramsey or Lord Sugar if you had to work with them? Is a whole new generation growing up believing that aggression and rudeness are desirable behaviours in the workplace? Deborah Tannen suggests that this is the case. In her book The Argument Culture she proposes that media influence means we are increasingly likely to move to an adversarial position in our everyday discussions. Aggressive is the new assertive.
Is this tendency towards adversarial debate damaging the national psyche? Living and working in an environment where verbal opposition is the automatic response during discussions has an insidious impact because it affects every one of us on a daily basis. If we anticipate negativity and criticism when we open up discussions at work or at home, we naturally become defensive of ourselves and our position. The impact of living with this every day drains energy and wastes time. It results in a low-performing culture.
Tannen suggests that we need to broaden our communication repertoire beyond opposition and conflict, paying more attention to different forms of dialogue. Some of the key ways to open up more effective discussion include emphasising consensus first, listening to understand rather than judge, and at the very least changing the popular ‘Yes… but’ to ‘Yes… and.’
We need to address the way we communicate in business now, before a created crisis for entertainment on TV becomes a real-life crisis in our businesses. We mustn’t follow the example set by TV celebrities and recognise that they do this because it gets the results they are seeking – that is increased viewer numbers. But in real life, it won’t get increased productivity, morale or commitment.
Are your workplace discussions more often adversarial than consensual? Do you find yourself having to defend your view before others have taken time to understand it?