It’s Not Just Another Conversation

By Heather Campbell

How many Zoom calls have you had this week? Actually, Microsoft Teams seems to be the mode with most of my calls recently although, I must admit, I much prefer Zoom. I really like the breakout-rooms facility – check it out if you use Zoom and haven’t come across it yet. A great feature, in my opinion.

But, the benefits of Zoom vs Teams isn’t really the point of this email. After all, the technology’s just the route to the main event – the actual conversations that have taken place all round the world over the last seven days via this technology. 

There must be trillions of interactions and countless hours invested in them. It’s mind-blowing.

But, hey, ignore all the noise of those trillions of conversations and focus instead on your own. That’s mind-blowing enough. How many conversations have you had this week – online, offline, by email, via text, through LinkedIn. You probably can’t even begin to count, there have been so many. And that’s a problem.

You see, we have so many conversations that we treat them like low-priced commodities. It’s like being given a box of matches at the start of the workday – you strike one and blow it out, strike another and blow it out, and so on. It doesn’t much matter because there’ll be another box of matches tomorrow. And there’ll certainly be another load of conversations tomorrow, too.

Now, thinking back on the conversations you’ve had this week, some of them will have been more important than others. Certain topics, specific people or particular situations will stand out. But you probably can’t really remember the majority of interactions you’ve taken part in. Possibly you can’t even really remember the conversations you had an hour ago. 
The thing is, many of the conversations you’ve already forgotten will still be impacting the people involved. And that becomes increasingly true the more senior your role in your organisation. The more senior you are, the more your words impact on others and the more the slightest indication of disinterest, disapproval or disagreement will be remembered. The old saying that ‘sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you’ is simply not true.

Words can cause lasting damage to another person and to relationships. And the wrong gesture or slight change in tone of voice, even if it’s unintentional, can do the same. 

What’s brought this to mind this week? It was a conversation I was having with a Vice President of a large oil & gas company a few days ago. We were talking about defining moments in our careers and he shared a dismissive quip that a senior leader had made when he was a young technical manager. He still feels the emotion and the hurt of that comment all those years ago – and he still remembers the person who said it (not with great fondness).  We went on to explore other examples, as well. We both had plenty.

Of course, as busy leaders we can’t be on top form all the time and we will get it wrong for all sorts of reasons. But, as you look forward to next week’s conversations, it’s worth remembering that a conversation isn’t something that burns and goes out. Its impact can last well beyond the point at which you have forgotten it; and, a conversation that means nothing to you can leave an impression that lasts a lifetime. 

Conversations are precious because they involve people and people are often more easily damaged than might first appear.

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