Executive Coach to Increase Dialogue & Engagement

Getting people to speak their truth in workplaces isn’t easy. Most people have been conditioned to guard themselves carefully. They are cautious and often reluctant to bring tough issues to the table or to give a boss or co-workers candid feedback about problematic behaviors. Reasons range from an intimidating boss, hostile work environment, hidden or political agendas to our natural self-protection (and/or self interest) as humans.

We pay a high price in business when tough subjects are avoided. Fearful employees walking around on eggshells are typically disengaged, unmotivated, and dissatisfied. Games of masquerade and pretending all is well prevail. Because tough issues are avoided– collaboration, improved communication, relationships and team productivity go by the wayside. Frankly, in my career coaching experience, most talented or high performing individuals will soon seek greener pastures in this environment.

As a team coach and facilitator, I try to help foster “dialogue” to transform this unhealthy dynamic. Simply put, dialogue is a conversational style that can dissolve barriers and fosters collaboration, trust, accountability and partnership. Dialogue is possible when there is trust, mutual respect and a commitment to inquiry and understanding. Dialogue can be a critical tool in workplaces to promote team learning and finding “shared meaning” even in conflict and disagreement.

Bringing in a skilled “outside” third party objective coach and/or facilitator can help foster dialogue and bring safety and skills to your workplace. They can help:

  • To create safety for participants to surface the “elephants in the room”. Skilled facilitators can create conditions where people feel safe to speak truth. Whenever there are issues/topics that team’s avoid I find blocked creativity, collaboration and learning. Avoidance isn’t a strategy. In my experience avoidance only makes things worse. The issues don’t go away they just bubble up in unhealthy ways like water cooler backbiting, rumors, and pent up frustration that eventually “blows” and good people leaving.
  • Teach your team healthy interpersonal skills like active listening. Teams can get mired in conflict without listening. Real listening with an intention to understand one another vs. debate or out argue one another is rare. Listening doesn’t just happen magically. Most people need to be taught listening skills due to the human tendency of justifying and defending vs. truly trying to understand the other’s perspective. Listening is critical for a healthy workplace and to be able to get real with one another.
  • To promote inquiry through asking the right questions and promoting a climate of curiosity. Skilled coaches and facilitators know the right questions to ask (often the “unasked” questions) to promote balanced participation and reveal the thinking behind positions or ideas. Facilitators can help surface and make assumptions visible for all while challenging participants to suspend judgment while they explore the issue. Learning can then happen through inquiry, reflection and dialogue leaving a team stronger and better able to tackle future tough subjects.
  • Develop team norms to continue fostering learning, dialogue and shared meaning when tacking difficult issues and challenges. Few workplace teams spend enough time figuring out how to work together more creatively and collaboratively. They get sucked into the myth that workplace meetings should be “task” focused. High performing teams spend as much time on task as they do fostering effective communication and teamwork.

An outside expert facilitator can help your team develop better group process and meeting ground rules to foster accountability and healthy productive meetings. Another benefit—meetings with skilled facilitators are rarely boring as usually there is healthy debate and open exchange of ideas and feedback! It’s not uncommon for me to hear participants describe well-facilitated meetings as “the best we ever had”.  Call me at 360 682 5807  — I can help you make your next executive retreat the best yet!

Workplace Gossip

Workplace GossipThe root of many workplace problems can be traced to a lack of communication or misperceptions that result from ineffective communication. In my coaching practice, workers often tell me they are reluctant to speak up candidly with one another about their concerns or what’s up for them. They fear office politics, losing a job, angering someone or retribution. Many also simply lack the skills to address difficult conversations directly. Unfortunately what many do instead is gossip and “triangle” in a third person (thereby avoiding talking to the offending person directly).

It’s easy to get sucked unconsciously into negative workplace energy. A colleague vents about someone else and pretty soon you find yourself nodding your head in agreement about how “so and so” is lousy at something. Bad feelings get shared, absorbed and co-workers develop negative perceptions about those they need to count on.

To a degree, it is human nature to complain. Yet, gossiping about others when they aren’t present damages trust, respect, morale and relationships. We pay a high price for the gossip or “triangle” approach. Most importantly, the issues don’t get resolved, particularly if the offending party is left in the dark. Additionally, gossip is toxic to workplace morale, camaraderie and team. It often spirals out of control leaving a wake of negativity, suspicion, resentment and broken communication. Team collaboration, creativity and productivity suffer because a lack of trust impedes healthy debate and open dialogue.

My mission is to get people talking to each other and not about each other. Here are my coach’s tips:

  • Notice your energy the next time you are engaged in a negative complaining or gossip conversation about someone else. Odds are you will notice a drop in your energy and enthusiasm. You may even note a weight on your shoulders that now burdens your body, emotions and mind. How is this serving you?
  • Are you unconsciously or automatically looking at situations and people with a “critical” eye? Challenge yourself to use an “appreciative” eye and look for what’s right about others vs. looking for what’s wrong on auto pilot.
  • If you are feeling angry, identify and own your “judgments” and then identify what you are needing/wanting that you aren’t getting. Do you have a need for more information, inclusion, equality or respect? Express your feelings and unmet needs to the other.
  • Be authentic. Say what is true for you while being conscious of respectful delivery of the information. Ask for what you need to be successful with a workplace task or role.
  • Hold interpersonal judgments lightly and consider that you may have the information wrong. Test your perceptions.
  • Discourage coworkers from gossiping. Either change the subject or refuse to take part in a conversation about someone when they aren’t present.
  • Take stock of the facts before you automatically become the judge and jury of a coworker. We humans are remarkably adept at making up stories and meaning to situations we don’t fully understand. We frequently leap to conclusions often with little or no data. Check and verify your perceptions before taking action that might result in harmful consequences.
  • Be intentional about how you speak about others when they aren’t present. Ask yourself how what you will say may serve either you or others?
  • If something is bothering you or there has been a missed expectation, take it up with the person directly. This takes courage and as long as the delivery of the message is handled with care and intention, most often the relationship will be improved.
  • Prepare for difficult workplace conversations. Begin with the end in mind—where do you want to end up as a result of this conversation? How can you deliver the message in a way that the other person can hear?

Difficult Workplace Conversation Tips

Difficult conversations are an integral part of many challenging, fast-paced and demanding workplaces. The complexity and discomfort associated with difficult conversations run the gamut — firing someone you like, delivering tough performance reviews, confronting disrespectful or unprofessional behavior, and confronting a colleague about their offensive body odor. The bottom line is there are many subjects that we find difficult to talk about in workplaces. How we handle them can make the difference between a great outcome or having a miserable (and unresolved) problem.

While handling difficult conversations can be challenging, there are strategies that can improve the outcome:

  • Be prepared. Preparing for a difficult conversation is always a good idea. Can you imagine a lawyer going into trial unprepared or a politician who hasn’t prepared talking points for a press conference? Take the time to prepare a written “cheat sheet” — talking points that will help you keep focused. This is particularly helpful if you anticipate a highly emotional response.
  • Identify your understanding of the problem. Clarify the issue for yourself and be prepared to address this in the conversation. Your idea of what the issue is and the person’s reality may be very different.

An objective of a first discussion, particularly about a complex or systemic problem, may be simply to come to an understanding of what the problem or issue really is. Using the “what the video camera would have captured” approach — versus emotional reactivity or hearsay comments — can be helpful.

  • Establish your intention. Define where you want to end up as a result of this conversation. What is at stake? What do you want for yourself, the person, your relationship and others the situation is affecting?
  • Anticipate discomfort. Have a plan for self-soothing as well as a de-escalation strategy if things get emotional.
  • For very difficult situations, get help. Find a colleague, mentor or outside resource to review, discuss and help you prepare for the discussion. An impartial third-party perspective may provide valuable insight and help you clarify and prepare. Role-play the anticipated conversation and get feedback — including about how your tone and body language are coming across.

Anticipating how the person may respond in this practice session (ask your partner to mimic how the person might act) may give you new approaches and coping ideas.

While in the difficult conversation:

  • Describe how the situation has affected you on an emotional level. Genuinely inquire about how the other person is feeling.
  • Demonstrate your concern for what you imagine it’s like to be in his or her shoes. Try to acknowledge and understand his or her position. This isn’t necessarily agreement; it’s understanding perceptions.
  • Use curiosity to help manage your anxiety and foster an open dialogue. Asking open-ended questions can help here: “What has this been like for you?” Authors Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen (Harvard Negotiation Project) write about the importance of shifting from a telling conversation to a learning conversation in their book “Difficult Conversations.” In other words, use inquiry versus blame.
  • Identify how you have contributed to the situation.
  • Get clarity and agreement about what changes must take place. While lessons of the past are important, what does the future solution look like?

Indicate what you can or are willing to change. Make clear what you want and need. Clarify agreements or commitments and define consequences for future behavior — both good and bad. These are key steps often missed by many managers.

  • Finally, document! It is important to provide a written record of issues and agreements, particularly for highly sensitive, personal or ongoing issues.

Managing in today’s dynamic workplace requires a broad base of leadership, communication and people skills. The ability to manage difficult conversations effectively is one of the many challenges required for successful leadership.

Done well, with planning and preparation, the end result can be very positive — on people, relationships and performance.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com