Alignment through Dialogue

When it comes to building alignment around your vision, dialogue plays a key role. Through dialogue, a leader establishes a two-way conversation, in contrast to the one-way communication needed for clarity, which I discussed in a previous. It involves suspending judgment and stretching to connect with the other person’s point of view. This requires openness and active listening.  Skilled leaders use dialogue as an opportunity to give people a voice. By engaging the group and making others part of the conversation, you open the door to shared ownership and accountability. In other words, you gain buy-in and begin to build engagement.

I read of several examples and practices in which dialogue changed history (highly recommended!) in William Isaacs’ book Dialogue. This book (I dare to say) is, at least in a business and decision making context an interesting predecessor to the Senge saga.

Going at the moment through an extreme change in leadership paradigm, I couldn’t help but gathering some thoughts and giving a continuation to the post: Clarity.

Dialogue is an art, but it’s also a skill that can be developed by practicing two key behaviors:exchanging perspectives and being receptive.

We want the people we lead to get it—to share our vision, our plan, our urgency, our passion. But it’s just as important for people to know that we get them. When people feel understood, they can open up more about what’s really bothering them. If you can get them talking, and if you listen to what they are saying, you’ll be able to address issues, answer questions, and share insights. It’s all about exchanging perspectives.

Exchanging perspectives can sound like hard work and it can be too. A bit too much of it will drive you to slow decision making which can lead an inability to scale up processes and has set many promising enterprises on a path from stagnation to extinction. But consider this: If you ask those around you about the leaders they enjoy working with most they are those who consistently rose to the top were those while genuinely listening to other people and taking others’ input and ideas seriously. I have heard of great practices and resources (especially in Europe) to improve in this area and I would be happy to share if asked.

Going through this path of growth myself, there are a couple of things I am trying out for creating dialogue by exchanging perspectives:

  • Create an open and relaxed environment where people feel comfortable asking questions and sharing perspectives.
  • Have one-on-one conversations with people.
  • Practice reflective listening.

The other best-practice behavior used by leaders to create dialogue is being receptive. Being receptive is a bit more straightforward than exchanging perspectives. It’s not so much about the process of having the conversation or even the content of the conversation. It’s about the vibe you are sending out during the conversation. Both consciously and unconsciously, people sense whether you are receptive and approachable.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, here’s some feedback I heard while asking people how good their bosses were at staying open to input:

“He does ask for input and feedback, but doesn’t really listen to or consider it.”

“She doesn’t seem to feel that the opinions of others are important.”

“He frequently shoots down others’ ideas.”

“When the group is trying to come up with ideas or suggestions, she acts like she is being personally attacked.”

Your tone of voice and body language speak volumes. So make sure you’re not sending the wrong message. Also, this is not the time for debate. Try to get people to open up by saying “Tell me more about that,” to keep the conversation going.  Remember, you’re trying to have a dialogue, not give a lecture. Set the stage for an honest dialogue and make sure people have the opportunity to say what they want to say.

If you’re the kind of leader who believes “It’s my way or the highway,” here are a few tips to help you show more receptivity:

  • Make sure your tone of voice and body language come across as receptive.
  • Be careful not to debate or battle for you own side.
  • Look for signs of people just telling you what you want to hear; then encourage more honest feedback.

Listening can be a hard craft to master, especially when it goes to really understanding the small signs that create high complexity in the work environment. My experience trying to explore this area has been with the incorporation of meditation and mindfulness practice into the business context but I would love to hear new perspectives.

Ta-ta!

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