Psst, psst – whisper, whisper, whisper…

19 May 2016

Building Trust and Promoting Collaboration in the Workplace

The modern corporate office environment is generally open-planned, minimalistic in style, decorated with lush wall-gardens, and furnished with generous plump lounges and long meeting tables with sophisticated coffee machines and a dozen or more Twining teas on offer.

These environments have been developed to foster collaboration, information sharing, inclusive behaviours and work practices as well as building employee satisfaction. I applaud the clever architects and interior designers, the blond wood and the modern white amenities look and feel clean, modern and inviting. So, what is not to like?

Well, I wonder about the behaviours in these environments. How do you have a full and frank conversation when you are surrounded by dozens of eyes and ears? Meeting rooms are a rarity and if you can find one, they have floor to ceiling glass walls which means privacy is difficult to achieve.

The real issue though is how conversations play out in the open plan environment. It can be loud, it can be chatty and at times disruptive, but that is real life, that is how we engage and behave in our social and family environment. What is not normal, at least in my social and family life, is whispering.

Whispering is Rude

Whispering sends a very clear message to all of those around the whispers – “I don’t want you to hear what I am saying”! Whispering is almost the opposite to collaboration, it creates an ‘in-group’ and an ‘out-group’ and it is very obvious which group you are in. At it’s worse, whispering is a form of exclusion at best, it is rude.

Whispering works directly against trust; without trust, we struggle to generate happy and productive employees which of course has a direct impact on the success of the business.

A simple message really, I was taught that whispering in front of others is ill-mannered, I have passed this message to my children, why then does whispering seems to be so common and ok in the workplace?

I understand that private conversations are important and necessary, my suggestion is to consider what it looks like to others – if you must have a very important and very quiet conversation, move to one of those rare meeting rooms or perhaps the plump lounge or one of the numerous coffee shops we are blessed with in most work environments. We don’t want to go back to stark white walls and high loop-carpet desk dividers, so we need to be more conscious of our behaviours and the associated messages.

But the point is, while you are trying to whisper, the message it sends is very loud indeed.

Kerryn Fewster

Kerryn is the Founder and Director of Change 2020. She has consulted extensively in the area of Transition and Transformation. She places emphasis on strategy development and solution implementation to minimise people and operational impacts associated with major change.

Other Posts You May Be Interested In