Dialogue – the most important tool for humans to master.
In part 1 I shared what dialogue is and its importance for the 21st century leader. I invite you to click on this link for a quick refresher, if required. Essentially, however, dialogue is a conversation between two or more people, allowing for disagreement and the discovery of shared meaning.
Note, however, that you can never enter into dialogue with others if you believe that you have a monopoly on the truth.
Four Pillars of dialogue
Dialogue requires the following pillars:
- Suspending judgement – holding judgement allows us to truly hear others.
- Identification of assumptions – this is like peeling an onion – peeling through different layers of understanding. We often make inferences and generalisations based on very little information and then assume we are right.
- Listening for learning – you cannot listen deeply if you don’t suspend judgement. The way we listen has much to do with our capacity to learn and build relationships. Far too often we are only listening while we are preparing our response.
- Inquiry and reflection – this happens on two levels; being clear what a statement means to you and then questioning the person based on your understanding. This allows for shared meaning, i.e. ensuring that impact and intent are aligned, allowing the conversation to go to the next level. Unfortunately this cannot be done if people are stuck in their fixed reactive patterns. It is truly about learning to ask questions with the intention of gaining additional insight and perspective.
Dialogue does not have to end in agreement. It allows for better understanding and deeper shared meaning.
Leaders | Change | dialogue
Dialogue helps to bridge the “understanding gap” that grows wider as our “connectivity gap” grows narrower.
How do we lead when change is out of our control? In times of dramatic and unprecedented change this is one of the most critical questions facing leaders. It is exactly in times such as these that leaders need to display the willingness to entertain the possibility that their own assumptions might be flawed and that those of their teams might offer key insights. A willingness to engage their teams in authentic dialogue.
In times of change trust is critical and there is no greater way of building trust than authentic dialogue.
When leaders face change they more often than not default to the known. Unfortunately, however, the previous known is often no longer relevant. When what worked in the past fails, leaders often default to command and control style, opening the door for controls unwelcome partner, fear.
Once leaders start trying to control the situation, they experience fear when they meet with resistance. Power gets taken to the top of the organisation and people are consigned to routine and frustrating work. This results in a dramatic increase in disengagement, loss of morale and attrition of top talent.
In times of change leaders need to find a better way to engage everyone’s intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arise. The fear driven leadership approaches have to be abandoned if long-term sustainability underpinned by a thriving culture is the desired outcome.
Leaders cannot support others to create what they as leaders cannot create for themselves. Hence the expectation that their teams should be transparent and honest with them, or listen to them, comes with the accountability that leaders are willing to engage and listen to their teams openly and honestly.
Margaret Wheatley says that in many organisations today it takes extra ordinary courage to begin conversations. What was a simple and natural human experience – talking to each other – has become a scary prospect. As our fear drives us apart, and as dominating power over others increases, conversations seem impossible. In times such as these the one real job of a transformational leader is to bring forth authentic dialogue.
Leaders that will survive the often unpredictable change of the 21st century, are those who trust their people’s humaneness. Leaders interested in people’s differences and leaders that nurture and connect people through authentic face to face engagement. What people need from leaders even more in uncertain times is that they speak to them, that they break their silence and be willing to listen to their team’s ideas. People love talking about what they do, what they see, how things can be improved, what they know about their customer’s, and supporting these conversations is an essential task of the one called “leader”.
In the end
Most employees do not drive to work wondering how they can effectively mess things up. Most drive to work wondering how they can get things done despite their leaders, despite the organisational challenges they face on a daily basis, the political craziness they need to survive within, the bureaucratic nightmares and mindless procedures constantly blocking their way.
Leaders, remember, it is not the volume or frequency of your message that gets people’s attention. If it has meaning, if you can be trusted, if your word has credibility, then people will notice.