The Quality of the Dialogue in the Room
I recently had a fascinating conversation with a journalist who works with a Directors institute. She referred to research with Corporate Board Members who, when asked about the differentiators between their successful and unsuccessful Management Teams, invariably referred to Human Behaviour, highlighting the “Quality of the Dialogue in the Room”.
“The Quality of the Dialogue in the Room” – I love it! Let’s generate real conversations!
Conversations abound. Modern technology is wonderful, enabling us to interact with anyone anywhere in the world, spread our messages and learn from others, all at minimal financial cost. The positive side is that we all have the freedom to post anything. The negative side is … that we all have the freedom to post anything.
We need to differentiate and filter, and I sincerely wish that more colleagues and ‘professionals’ who post on platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook – wonderful resources all – would do so.
I do tire of seeing pathetic graphics of “easy-to-understand” contrasts between good/bad practice, successful/unsuccessful practice, smart/dumb people, old/new approaches, etc. on professional platforms.
The world is neither mechanistic, nor is it made up of two kinds of people!
Fortunately, it is more complex. Indeed, is it not this complexity that makes our world fascinating?
Simplicity is an art.
Simplistic soundbites are not just superficial nonsense. When acted upon they exacerbate the problem they claim to be solving, detracting from the quality of the conversation by drawing people further apart.
So how can we increase the Quality of Dialogue in the Room?
We move beyond the surface, inviting people to take a deeper dive. This may not always be comfortable. However, if we really want to establish meaningful connection as a foundation for constructive collaboration among those who make meaningful decisions, the process is essential. Comfort zones are resting places, rarely a source of development.
We all possess a couple of elegant yet simple tools that enable us to move into a generative conversation space …
- The skill of Invitation: Invite people into a conversation.
- The ability to ask Questions.
- The ability to Listen at a deeper level, including not interrupting while others are speaking.
I know very few people who are happy to be instructed on what to do. On the other hand, I have frequently experienced the positive impact of a well-thought out invitation on a group that needs to engage with each other and with the organisation. While purpose and relevant context are of course essential, a genuine appeal can be extremely powerful.
Let’s get Concrete …
… using a few concepts that are currently appearing regularly in organisational literature: Shared Values in organisations, Shared Behaviour, Cultural Fit, as well as two old stalwarts: Leadership and Management.
All these terms are loaded by association, all are capable of evoking emotions, and therefore, to establish common ground among any group of people, all require a dialogue that highlights the subtle distinctions in interpretation.
Shared Values in organisations.
Most leaders and OD consultants would probably agree that organisations need a shared value base, which does not necessarily mean that everybody has the same values. After all, healthy organisations comprise independent thinkers, not followers.
When organisations and consultants talk about Shared Behaviour, do they really expect everybody in an organisation to behave identically, following pre-set standards: the military option?
Hopefully not! In the 21st century human robots cannot be a constructive solution to any problem.
I seem to be reading and hearing the term Cultural Fit more frequently than ever. I openly admit a personal bias against the term “fit”, which I generally associate with attempts to shape individuals according to a pre-set format: indoctrination is an alternative term – and some undesirable organisations would doubtless see this as desirable.
Some Clarification Questions …
Leadership: So many people are ready to offer an opinion when they hear the word. Too few are willing to ask any Questions.
Try this one …
Without the Question, there is no way of knowing whether people are talking about the same thing.
There is always leadership in every group. Whether or not the style of leadership being practiced is appropriate or beneficial are different Questions.
The number of apparent hierarchy-free organisations is growing and it is becoming somewhat trendy to reject the need for Management in any kind of organisation. Examples are regularly cited of companies that apparently have no management – apparently.
Organisations need to manage their operations, however they decide to do so. This does not necessarily mean that they need people with the explicit function of managing others.
People in nominal hierarchy-free organisations might like to engage around these Questions …
I invite you to try an exercise …
Print the cards. Cut them out and place face down on the table.
Get together with one or two colleagues or friends.
Place smart phones and other electronic distractions to the side.
Assume a context in which you work together and share responsibility for/with your group.
One person selects a Question card; reads it aloud; answers aloud for him/herself; then the other(s) answer for themselves too. DO NOT INTERRUPT THE SPEAKER!
When you have finished one Question, a different person selects a different card. Etc.
What did you notice about the conversations?
What did you discover about each other?
How could you use this approach in your organisation?
If you’d like to share your insights, I’d love to hear from you.