Every leader can establish an abundance mindset that allows for innovative thinking, advancement, and constant self-improvement through genuine conversations. Unfortunately, today, most leaders—or managers—are not built that way. In this blog, you will learn how to use the power of conversation to listen to, support, understand, challenge, and inspire your followers.
Instead of using leading and controlling questions, have a conversation where you ask genuinely curious questions to team members. Controlling Conversations prevent you from listening to what others have to say. A Controlling Conversation can be detrimental to both the development of your team and the growth of your company.
When company leaders cannot hear their team members’ voices, serious strategic failures are likely to occur. Be genuinely curious in your questions rather than leading and manipulating people with your questions to get the very best outcome.
Do you remember the last time a controlling team member said, “Yeah, that’s not going to work here” after hearing a new idea in a team? That person tends to ask a controlling follow-up question, “What ways can we do it my way?” Ring a bell? It is one of the most destructive things a team member or leader can do.
The functional way to do this is:
1. Let me understand your idea better. It sounds like it has some merit to me. I just need a little more context because that is how I think.
2. How does it really work? What should we do? (These are clarifying or challenge questions).
3. So, is this what you mean? Let me explain what I’ve heard (These are mirroring questions).
4. The group can better come to a conclusion on what is right.
Why Having Genuine Conversations with Employees Is No Longer an Option but a Necessity
In recent times, the command-and-control management approach has become increasingly unviable. Globalization, technological advances, and shifts in how businesses create value and engage with customers have all reduced the effectiveness of a top-down, authoritative leadership style.
What will fill the void left by that model? The way leaders manage conversation within their organizations—how they control the dissemination of information to, from, and among their employees—is part of the solution.
Conventional workplace interaction must give way to a livelier, refined process. Most importantly, it must be a process focused on enabling genuine conversations with your team and the organization as a whole. That is what is lacking amongst many organizational leaders today.
A significant reason for this is that their conversations have an element of control, even if your intentions are good. According to my friend and renowned Executive coach and author Marshall Goldsmith, “Yes, but,” or “however,” at the start of response is like saying, “you’re wrong, and I’m right.”
No matter how many nice appeasing phrases you throw in to affirm the other person’s feelings, when you begin a conversation with ‘no,’ ‘but,’ ‘however,’ or any variation of the same, you are telling the other person that they are wrong. It is how all-controlling conversations with employees or subordinates begin.
It is not only a matter of self-improvement in communication skills; every leader should manage a genuine conversation. Leadership is ineffective unless it generates positive energy capable of producing new leaders.
True leaders can harness the transformative potential of face-to-face and virtual conversations in their daily work to deepen relationships and influence, inspire, and learn from others.
The goal of a leader using genuine conversations to communicate with employees is to involve the entire group in an autonomous liberating process rather than to establish themselves as the pinnacle of a hierarchical pyramid.
It is a process where everyone accepts complete responsibility for the team/organizational success, as exemplified by the MathWorks case study in my book, Best Practices in Leadership Development. MathWorks, a leading software developer and provider of technical computing technology, sent out an informal survey to all employees, asking them to name the company’s biggest internal headache. The Operations department came out on top by a long shot.
Elizabeth Haight, Vice President of Operations, and her team assessed the situation. The procedure was disjointed. Each staff member functioned as a self-contained unit, responsible only for their territory. Nobody asked for assistance or felt obligated to cooperate.
Haight and her bosses agreed that the situation had deteriorated where small changes were no longer effective. They wanted to try something different and were encouraged by the executive group’s support.
They considered the 4-player team roles: Mover, Supporter, Challenger, and Mover to assess the current structure and where it lacked. The MathWorks had started to show increasing signs of a hierarchy-based, compartmentalized, or closed culture, typical of a dynamic company.
Companies either become more bureaucratic at this point, or they develop facets of open culture to bridge the gap between random and closed. However, “Change is good,” the company’s motto, showed that MathWorks had an entrepreneurship culture.
Luckily, the values of innovation and risk-taking prevailed. Operations management decided to create a cross-functional team structure with the backing of the executive group, an excellent example of the open system.
The new random-open system was a hit with the department. It was a joy for people to bring their “issues” to the managers’ attention. The triage unit worked tirelessly to remove all barriers and justifications for change and reinforce the new way of working that encourages and facilitates genuine conversations between managers and their teams. The results of this change were evident within 30 days.
How to Have Genuine Conversations with Your Team
Genuine Conversations focuses on self-awareness, openness, ethics, and a healthy relationship. With that as a foundation, the leader’s envisaged conversations can focus on the following areas of empowerment:
These are the critical areas where a conversation can genuinely make a difference because they reflect the needs that we all expect our leaders to meet. With this in mind, you need to approach conversations with employees/subordinates in the following way to ensure these conversations are genuine-enough to inspire, lead, discover, or support your followers.
Question/Challenge With Genuine Curiosity (And Not For Power or Control)
Active/Action questions/questioning was very popular in the 90s and 2000s and lost their way because they became abusive. Abused by people who thought they could control people and dialogue with questions. Have you ever known a colleague to ask a question that directly leads you to the very thing they are trying to tell you to do? “What would happen if you did it this way?” “Yes. Go ahead, do that. If you did <xzy> that would be great.”. How about when a colleague passively-aggressively tells you that something will never work because they don’t have the time to do something innovative. You found the controller.
The CORRECT way to question is through genuine curiosity. Genuine curiosity is when you genuinely want to understand more. You genuinely want to learn more about something. It does not have anything to do with leading you toward your question. “Tell me more about what you mean when you say…” What does that mean for <xyz>?” “Where there be a potential impact?” ‘If so, let me understand more about it.” Or, “The way I may see it rolling out the way you are proposing is <xyz>. Is it possible that <xy>z may happen?”
Mirror Back People Genuinely
Explain what you heard the other person or group or an individual is saying on your team. Take the time to truly understand the other person’s point of view and wisdom. If they have experience and knowledge, give yourself and the other person the respect to understand before being understood.
You will likely look like a total jerk if you do not do this. The opposite/disabled form of mirroring is showing you understand just for the sake of giving lip service to that person. You are doing it for effect rather than genuine care for the idea. “We are both concerned with…” I see that your point is…” are example mirror statements.
You don’t have to be in control of the idea all the time. Show the areas you support the vision and offer more guidance and ideas to make it tremendous and potentially move to a result.
There are often better ideas out there that deserve merit. If everyone controlled and “led” all the time, we would never conclude with honor and dignity. You would be an oligarch or dictator. This kind of leadership does find its way into companies. Don’t be that person. Use acknowledgement to show you are receptive to an idea in a genuine manner. “I see your thinking.” “I understand your point” are all potential supporter statements.
Moving has a role in every meeting and conversation. You are dictating the move without first 1, asking with genuine curiosity, 2, expressing some possible challenges you may perceive for others’ consideration, 3. Supporting, and 4, mirroring for understanding. Just because you are the project manager does not mean you have to control the entire group. It’s quite the opposite – you must facilitate understanding – not control the group for your political gain. “It would be so wonderful if…” “I think it would be great if we…” and “Let’s start right away. What dates are good for you?” are wll mover statements
A leader who focuses on having Genuine Conversations empowers their teams and sets off a chain reaction: they take the first step when leading, motivating, discovering, or facilitating others, and the impacts of their actions don’t end there. The counterpart who is a part of an effective genuine conversation learns from it, embraces the values passed down, and spreads them to the rest of the team. In the absence of any of these roles, you are officially in a dysfunctional team or relationship. If you continue this conflict, bring in a trained mediator or facilitator.
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Louis Carter is the founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute and the author of more than ten books on best practices in leadership and management, including Change Champion’s Field Guide, In Great Company, and Best Practices in Talent Management. Thought leaders and executives voted him one of Global Gurus Top 10 Organizational Culture thinkers worldwide