Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Trainer Insights

COVID-19 Back to Work Basics: How to Speak Up, Listen, and Be Accountable at Work

Dear Emily,

Leaders at my company announced they would like employees to return to the office in July. After working at home in quarantine, what should my company be doing to help employees feel more comfortable about coming back to the office?


Dear Wary,

Like you, for many of us, re-opening the door to business has begun. Our organizations and our communities are taking steps on a fragile path to what promises to be a new normal. There remains tremendous uncertainty: Will there be a vaccine? Will people take it? Will a second wave hit? Will we have to close down again? How long will the recession last? Will I get sick? Will I have a job? In many ways, the re-opening has far less clarity than the closing.

The closing of our economy came quickly and more definitively. For workers in organizations that closed, 10% had only a week’s notice. Within that same week, employees were working in an office one day, and the next they were working from home. But the process of reopening promises to be a longer, rockier experience.

Navigating the ambiguity and uncertainty of reopening requires skilled dialogue. Now, more than ever, we need to talk and listen to people. We need to expand our pool of meaning so we can make better decisions and take more committed actions that help workers and customers feel safe and be safe.

As VitalSmarts Certified Trainers, you are uniquely skilled to help your organizations through this next phase of working in the new normal. You are behavior-change experts and your organizations need the skills you can offer for a transition that promises to be filled with questions. Here are three contributions you can bring to your organization for impact:

Be 200% Accountable. As individuals and organizations feel their way through this next phase of the pandemic, people are being asked to engage in new behaviors with serious guidelines such as: wear a mask, stay six feet apart, wash hands more frequently, sanitize workspaces, etc. The CDC, SHRM, and state and county public health officials are all distributing sound, evidence-backed recommendations for what people need to do differently. But telling people what to do differently is a blunt tool for behavior change (as any of us with teenagers know).

Driving sustainable behavior change requires more than a list of guidelines and practices. It requires 200% percent accountability which means, I need to be 100% accountable in creating behavior change for myself while also being 100% percent accountable for helping and supporting others to create behavior change.

Creating a 200% accountability culture is how you drive lasting behavior change. It starts with being able to speak up when you see someone failing to live the new behavior. The moment someone is held accountable to a new behavior is the moment a norm begins to be established.

We know speaking up and holding others accountable is hard. But as Certified Trainers, you have the skills to do it well. Recently, VitalSmarts launched a new FREE video resource called “How Do I Say That?” to help you and those you serve and teach speak up and create cultures of 200% accountability. You can download the first installment of our Trainer Pack on the Trainer Zone under the Additional Resources section. You can also share the link below with your organization to learn more about what we are offering to the public:

Be a Listener. I spend a lot of my time responding to questions about how to speak up and share truth. Putting meaning into the pool is an essential part of dialogue and one that sometimes overshadows the other essential part of dialogue: hearing and bearing witness to your truth. One of the most powerful things you can offer to your organization right now is your ability to listen. People are scared. People are uncertain. People are suffering. People are processing. The isolation of the pandemic has scarred and is scarring us. Human connection is vital and listening is crucial.

Seeing this need, volunteer members of the VitalSmarts Master Trainer community have created their own “Be Heard” initiative. They are using their skills to offer a place of deep, respectful listening to people in need of a supportive listening presence. This effort is not coaching, counseling, or advice offering. It is simple and powerful listening. You also have these powerful listening skills and we encourage you to consider ways to create listening space within your organization.

Be an Example. We close our Crucial Conversations course with a video titled “The Power of One.” A teenaged Samuel Grenny recreates Solomon Asch’s famous conformity experiment in which he asks people to judge the distance of a line, compared to three others. The answer is obvious, but when others in the group answer incorrectly but uniformly, the research subject is pressured to do the same. Samuel’s results were similar to Asch’s—about two-thirds of people conformed.

But then Samuel changed the experiment. He had one person speak up and say, “I guess I saw it differently . . . ” and then give the correct answer. At that point, after just one person expressed a non-conforming view, 95% of Samuel’s test subjects answered correctly. They expressed their true opinion because someone else had done the same.

True dialogue only happens when there is difference. Conformity kills conversation, but difference sparks dialogue.

There are so many decisions to be made in the next months as our organizations and communities navigate re-opening in a new normal. Now is the time you can create safety for others by simply speaking up in the face of conformity or silence and saying:

  • “I see that differently.”
  • “I’d like to offer a different perspective.”
  • “I wonder if there is a different way we could or should be looking at this problem.”

Inviting different perspectives is not simply an opening for you to offer your contribution to the conversation. It opens the door and creates safety for others to offer theirs.

You have the knowledge and skills your organizations and communities need right now. It’s time to put them to use.

Be well, friends.


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1 thought

  1. melaniegao

    Emily thank you as always for a beautiful post. Several of my colleagues have anticipated crucial conversations as we head back in to the office and they’ve asked me for advice. My advice is going to be, “Go read Emily’s post.”

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