Author Sue Johnston is a journalist, specializing in organizational communications and coaching. At the beginning of this part novel, part workbook, Johnston clearly states her objective—to create connection and collaboration in the workplace. Johnston flatly states that online social networking has replaced conversation to the detriment of business.
Weaving practical lessons around fictional stories, “Talk to Me” is broken down into three sections per chapter. The first “Paul’s Adventure”, features the title character working for Forthright Financial, a wealth management company. He is in charge of making the computers jell and function together. He is not a people person, preferring to solve problems and puzzles through analysis and is uncomfortable talking to his five underlings. Meetings are repetitious, and people are blaming each other for delays.
Burt, the project manager, comes from a banking background and doesn’t understand the ‘maverick’ aspect that the company wants to project. Marketing needs a new system; programming wants a custom built system, not a vendor substitute. The trainers need a system code. Motivation is low. Into this mess comes Emma, the CEO, who calls Paul into her office. She draws similarities between computer codes and conversation. Sloppy = ineffective. Emma sees the problem as a communication one.
The second section, “What’s Going On Here?”, combines management theory, scientific research and principles of workplace success. The last section, titled “Do Try This at Home”, consists of workbook exercises—tracking one co-worker and examining exactly how you communicate with him, i.e. e-mail, memo, text, reports or conversation—and applying practical understanding and application of the concepts integrated into the previous stories.
Though it is accessible, with a minimum of jargon, “Talk to Me” is not aimed at a general audience. The fiction sections are not going to make anyone forget Henry James, and there is a tendency to repeat points, either through the dialogue or in the ensuing analysis. But, overall, this is an effective, clear approach to reestablishing face-to-face discussion as a means of solving workplace problems.