Part One: Redefining Communication Dynamics
Communication is essential to the development and healthy growth of any organization. In the conversation around the future of work, communication is often seen as an afterthought rather than a vital component that will enhance business strategy and develop a corporate culture that will be prepared for the challenges of the workplace of the 21st century. Currently, within the business ecosystem and the disability community there continues to be a schism that is not only impacting employment philosophy but the meaning of good business. There is a language barrier that persists between C-level executives, senior management, and those in the disability community from job seekers to non-for-profits whose mission is to seek full participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of corporate life. As stakeholders in this ongoing conversation, each of these players is coming at this from a slightly different perspective and finding a connection has certainly been a challenge up until this point.
On one side you have the disability community that has been defined by their activism and work to shape public policy to create equal participation where employment plays a central role engendering a feeling of independence and growth. Yet, on the other side, there is business that at its core functions very differently with an emphasis on several key areas from growth, leveraging competitive advantage, to finding greater shareholder value. Not only is it critical for the those within the disability community to refine their communication skills and find more effective ways to communicate their value to the business community, but it is also just as important for the business community to understand and communicate the significance of the disability community across the C-suite and senior management levels. So how do we achieve an open, honest conversation that is beneficial to both sides and offers a solution to this rift? First, we must encourage a new approach to looking at this relationship and create a shared vernacular that both sides can be engaged in to navigate the challenges and successes ahead. In fact, taking a page out of traditional couple’s therapy can provide a critical solution to this problem and offer a pathway to a healthy relationship.
As the eminent psychotherapist Esther Perel once wrote “everyone comes to work with a relationship legacy, a resume if you will. They bring the hidden histories of their other work relationships, as well as the ones they grew up with at home…How does that impact their approach to delegating, asking for help, collaborating, and competing with others?” There are unseen dynamics at work that play out in the business environment shaping both organizational management style and how C-level and senior management perceive their roles within the corporate culture. Through a better understanding of these underlying issues, both the business and disability communities can cultivate the tools to enhance these conversations and begin to manage them. It cannot be stressed enough that strengthening relationships through active communication is fundamental, particularly for the disability community where fear and stigma still hold an underlying residue across the business environment.
As Perel points out no matter where you are in the corporate hierarchy, “if you work, you usually have a “work family.” Whether you’re at an entry-level or founder you are essentially entering into a partnership with an organization. This being the case, we should approach this dynamic very much like a marriage that is fraught with ups and downs but needs to find ways to maintain balance even in chaos and find success. The disability community and the business world are still very much in the newlywed phase of this process. While there are Equality Indexes and studies showing the inherent value proposition both from market size and untapped human capital, what we don’t have yet is a foundational style of communication that can balance the threshold between work life and interpersonal issues that greatly impact teamwork, performance, and even clarifying organizational goals. In this newlywed stage of this relationship, both the disability community and business organizations need to find pacing that works and cultivate a bond to generate a successful business venture where employees feel needed and the organization needs them.
In Part Two of this series, we will explore some practical strategies and tools that both the disability community as well as C-level and senior management can use to improve their communication skills. Taking cues directly from couples and marriage and family therapeutic techniques the goal will be to illustrate how businesses can use these modalities to nurture a style of engagement for a more effective exchange to build a stronger business partnership and achieve long term success.