We can’t engage the people who work for us unless we are able to foster open dialogue - what we call genuine conversations. Conversations that are authentic and based on truth, understanding and respect. A respect that is communicated in a transparent manner without posturing, pretense or politics. These are the fundamentals of the high quality relationships we create in our personal lives and they are no less valuable at work.
Just like in our home life, each of us wants to be understood without judgement and we are more likely to open up ourselves when we feel respected, safe and in the presence of someone who will spend the time to listen. And when we aren't open and our truths aren't transparent, all kinds of weird drama persists in our family life and the same is true at work - we make better decisions and generally work better together when the truth is known about: how we feel, what we think, when we need help, and when others need to pitch in more. We learn how to discuss these things on the playground and through those all too frequent arguments we used to have about the trash and the dishes with our college roommates. Below are 7 principles that can help you to use those genuine conversational skills perfected at home, school and on the sports field to improve the quality of your professional relationships with peers and direct reports.
7 Principles of Genuine Conversations
Start by clarifying your own needs and wants. Firm up your opinions by reviewing materials and reflecting before planned meetings. On the fly, if you need more time to consider your opinion - ask for it. Don't blag.
Address important issues head on. Don't side step the big stuff. Speak in direct and simple language and avoid pontificating in ways that make your intentions and beliefs unclear or inaccessible by all.
Commit to adult to adult conversations that are respectful, caring and familiar in tone. Break down the walls of positional authority. If you need to keep telling people you're a leader, then you're probably not working at your best.
View the people you speak with as allies and not adversaries. Don't try to win the conversation by arguing against your conversation partner. Think of it as “we against the problem not you against me.”
Listen to understand and slow your roll when you find yourself becoming judgey or making unfounded inferences. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
Empathize and make space for your feelings and those of others. Acknowledge these feelings, but try to avoid making things personal.
Be honest and transparent - democratize what is not personal or confidential and share without deception, manipulation or strategic delays that give you advantage. Be brave, state your views (the truth as you know it) and present openly the facts that you believe supports your position. Let the best ideas win.
At first it may feel aspirational or awkward, but it is possible and the rewards of success are great. We can't have the full investment of attention and passion from our employees and colleagues without showing them the respect, sympathy and truthfulness inherent in genuine conversations.
If you’d like to explore how to encourage more genuine conversations between your employees, please contact us.