T his week is National Conversation Week (NCW), which aims to encourage the act of – yep, you guessed it – having a conversation. But not an online one, or a phone call, or anything digitally assisted. Instead, NCW seeks to inspire us to reconnect through the physical act of talking.
More specifically, NCW is designed to help break down the social barriers that prevent us from talking about difficult subjects. At a time when the art of conversation is drowning in a sea of emojis, it’s important that we take the time to address some of the more tabooed topics with open conversation, instead of relying on the polarising forums of social media to hash out our differences.
At Fourth Day, we champion this idea of authentic conversation through Honest Talks – a series of discussion-based events that are open and inclusive. In these discussions, the audience are as much a part of the conversation as the panellists, and all can speak freely without judgement. It’s an informal, collaborative and friendly environment, focusing on subjects that can often be ignored or uncomfortable to talk about. We don’t claim to have all the answers to the issues we discuss; we just think it’s good to talk.
Initially the brainchild of our very own Lizzie Wood, Honest Talks was born out of her own response to female-only networking events she had attended in Manchester that looked at gender in the workplace. Since many of these events were exclusively for women, Lizzie felt a part of the solution to the problems discussed, i.e. men, weren’t being exposed to these conversations. And when men were being asked to share their views at open events, she noticed they would be reticent to speak and fearful of saying the wrong thing.
This is a crucial point. It’s one thing having a conversation, but if we’re not allowing everyone to speak without fear of condemnation, how meaningful is that conversation? In the case of female-only events, they certainly have a helpful role to play in empowering women. But, for a major cultural change to happen in society we need to allow others – those with the power to influence that change – to join the conversation at some point. This topic formed the basis of our first Honest Talks.
Since then, we’ve hosted five further events across Manchester and London that tackled difficult subject matters, which have included such things as the role of alcohol in business culture and the polarising impact of social media.
We’re learning from these conversations, too. Following our talk about alcohol in business environments, for instance, we revised a monthly incentive scheme which had previously rewarded our top performers with a bottle of champagne. We realised after the discussion how this was perpetuating a drinking culture that wasn’t appropriate for all employees. Now our winners can choose from a range of prizes (which still includes the booze, but alongside other options).
What we’ve learnt is that, for real, tangible change to occur, we need to give each other space to talk and be receptive of new ideas. This is not always evident when we look at the discourse taking place on social media. National Conversation Week is helping to counter this though. It’s about reengaging with one another to help bring about positive change. We think it’s a cool message, and one we fully embrace.