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Conversations that Count

 

    

 

 "Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards" - Theodore Zeldin

 

 

CONVERSATIONS FOR INCLUSION, ENGAGEMENT, POSITIVE CHANGE AND GROWTH ARE A BUSINESS IMPERATIVE

In offices many topics count and deserve conversations. (These may include taboo conversations, suppressed for the wrong reasons).

In an age where digital monologues, selfies and superficial chats are the norm, the power of conversation is waning. Disconnected in our connected world, text, email and social media exchanges are hardly interactive, let alone conversational.  With regard to the enormity and primacy of our digital world, human relationships may well suffer: “……….we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise” (Laudato Si Encyclical (47) issued by Pope Francis). No matter how good an organisation's social media policy and practices are, the very way in which social media is used tends to keep our interest areas limited to what we already know, and also to reinforce our own opinions. Difference and diversity (in the widest sense) is often curtailed.

TV, live-streamed and public-event ‘conversations’, from political debates to discussion groups, tend to be immature, combative and divisive because there is something to ‘win’, the audience are passive listeners, and there is an ‘entertainment value’ to be optimised.  In the lonely, digital world we inhabit, meaningful one on one interactions and relating is reduced. They are also in danger of being distorted. The opinions, beliefs, worldviews and values that we adopt and form may be algorithmically influenced. Algorithmic bias and slanted news help determine what we are exposed to and thus our ‘take’ on different topics and events. Honest, thoughtful conversation becomes a necessary antidote to these insidious pressures.

Good communication that addresses both task-accomplishment and relationship-building (and the rational weighing up of different options) in the workplace is essential to team work, customer service, problem solving, harnessing diversity, building social relationships, networking, collaboration agility and resilience .......... yet .........Scientist and philosopher David Bohm (On Dialogue) points out “… Communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale … Different groups … are not actually able to listen to each other … the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust”. Clearly this hampers task achievement.  (An essential principle driving servant leadership is a focus on relationship to facilitate task performance). Professor Charles Derber's major study on group conversation underlines the need for cooperative conversation but highlights the disruptive nature and increasing presence of individual socially competitive, aggressive "conversational narcissism". (The Pursuit of Attention: power and ego in everyday life. Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition  2000)

New trends in organisational life, leadership and good governance are emerging at a more rapid rate, as are changes in stakeholder experiences, perceptions and expectations. (Think adaptability, spirituality, susatainability, diversity). In the office, conversations avoided, like elephants, don’t go away. They form disturbing undercurrents that detract from relationships and performance. The more elephants there are to edge around, whisper about, insinuate, hide and deny, the more grouchiness, sniping, resentment and enmity there is. Some even speak of 'culture chasms' between leaders and their followers - far bigger than mere gaps. in this situation co-operation is stunted. Creativity suffers. Everybody is unhappy. Remaining silent on issues worsens the situation. Far better to have conversations that matter. 

When employees learn to "suck it up" rather than to "speak up" then this situation will continue to apply for as long as they feel psychologically unsafe, excluded, insufficiently valued and respected, and not empowered, equipped and enabled to speak out. Savvy leaders use the conversations-that-count process to 'lead with questioning'. The people who do the work partake together for the purpose of joint sense- making; shared moments that enlighten, bond and are cathartic (emotionally, socially and spiritually). A robust and psychologically safe process that works to the benefit of the organisation, its cultural evolution and its members:

 

A CONVERSATIONS - THAT - COUNT PROCESS THAT WORKS:

1. SURVEY. A confidential and easy- to-participate array of (short) on-line surveys (conversation - starters) to address key topics. The questionnaires are diagnostics, but at another level respondents are exposed to statements that may well embed new words, metaphors and thinking that promote their seeing complex situations and systems from new perspectives."It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question" - Eugène Ionesco. People are given time to reach a silence inside of themselves.

2. IMMERSION. Selected from a menu of optional opinion pieces, reflections and exercises - participants are able to take a deep (but unpressured) dive into the topic/s. (An immersion process). Exposure to survey questions, followed by this immersion process, is a path to raising awareness, perhaps even 'confronting' unconscious bias or limiting beliefs. 

3. ANECDOTE CIRCLES. With this knowledge and preparation, constructive, open and confidential group 'conversations' are conducted using anecdote circle technology as a safe and positive container for sharing stories, listening, surfacing valuable information and insights, sharing perspectives and feelings (beyond the 'edges' of what they would previously have explored) and collective wisdom.  Precision-crafted questions trigger the anecdote circle conversations.  This is a space for being open and authentic. We become present to each other (in a psychologically-safe space, ready to be vulnerable, share, show compassion, risk getting involved together). We not only explore each other's world views as a precursor to raising awareness, perhaps uncovering unconscious bias, but  experience each other's 'identity essence'. Change and healing is already occurring: in viewpoints, attitudes, connections, motivation.  Unconscious bias is obviated to a significant extent, allowing for open consideration of all viewpoints and suggestions. Added to written and multiple-choice survey responses, understanding of the feelings that emerge at this phase of the process is critical to well-rounded, accurate, comprehensive outcomes. And neuroscience findings support this approach to conversations within organisations, and social learning. When people realise that their voice is being heard, engagement and motivation are likely to follow.

(This phase resonates with appreciative inquiry (and touches on the not-so-positive) as well as with aspects of humble inquiry. Eminent educational and cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner believed that “the richest learning comes from narrative …. It deals in human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course”. This is where a "right brain" aspect is added to the process. Minds grow. Horizons broaden. Trust is strengthened ( in effect, what Parker J. Palmer refers to as "circles of trust")Insights are experienced, captured, democratized and mobilised.  People begin to bond in new ways. Sometimes appropriate background music can be used to usher in calm social engagement - when topics are particularly challenging.)

4. BUY-IN & IMPLEMENTATION. Specific norms and behaviours can now be addressed, and a focused culture change towards a new way of being has started ....The process allows for depth probing and thus deals with root causes and not merely symptoms. Participants, due to the process thus far, ease into an adaptive mode and own the execution process.  Communication turns into communion. As Thomas Merton has pointed out, “The deepest level of communication is not communication but communion”.

In summary:

 THE POWER OF THE PROCESS:

(Behavioural science is demonstrating the power of mindfulness, attentive listening, using the power of ‘AND’ rather than ‘EITHER/ OR’ to dissipate resistance, bring people to a shared perspective, guide decisions, apply new ways of nurturing change, and enter an emerging future together in a (psychologically) safe place and an atmosphere of trust and cooperation. The Conversations that Count process rests on these principles. It is a means of nudging people into making the cultural changes that count. The process is also compatible with David Rock's principles of fairness, safety, equal-status, autonomy and certainty. And it draws on ancient wisdom - for example the sacred Native American Talking Circle focused on harmony and balance. Beneath the surface of these conversations good things happen with relationships. Meaningful conversations and the sharing of truths help to mend what is distorted and eroded in an overwhelmingly digital, social-media world. Participants learn things about themselves and their colleagues, begin to dream of a shared future and new possibilities, and become ready to work on that together. Knowledge Management in action. The process is about both being and doing).

In conversation circles where consciousness is raised, sometimes a deep to deep interpersonal connection and a warm recognition of another’s presence occurs. The need to belong is satisfied. This mirrors what happens when a Christian group lectio share their contemplations and intuitions following an immersive sacred scripture contemplation. The Sufi spiritual practice of story sharing in a sacred circle where there is absolute trust, respect, transparency and a meeting of the minds and hearts, is called Sohbet. Sohbet may be translated literally as “conversation”!

We find that the process trumps training. Take diversity training for example, where “ … many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward”(David Rock and Heidi Grant). The Conversations That Count process allows autonomy and self- discovery, and leads to positive intent, co-operation, group ownership. Where there is trust, respect, transparency and understanding of other's perspectives and feelings, and self-determination; then a natural willingness to work together and collaborate towards something new and better, comes about. Amy Edmondson's work shows that when people experience and learn together, bonding and “teaming” happens.  The process cuts through uncivil and disrespectful behaviours where these are present, allowing participants to find each other as they find answers. Exposure to the process has beneficial impact on participant's emotional and social intelligence. (On occasion, a need for individual coaching may be unearthed)

In essence, our conversation process allows for bottom-up implementations quickly and easily (without any time or complexity problems). This principle may be termed the democratization of of knowledge and insights.  So it's an agile process that also fosters aspects of personal resilience. It works on the (serving leadership) principle that better relationships mean better results. And better quality relationship quality does result for participants - what Erica Dhawan would see as a boost to 'connectional intelligence'. 

If you’d like more information please email surveys@storytelling.co.za or centserv@iafrica.com  or visit https://culturescan.biz 

 

"Graham spent many hours working with our organization on an initiative around conversation circles. Every experience, from the administration of three powerful surveys to the facilitation of conversation circles, was thoughtfully and professionally handled. We found that the process enabled our team members to open up, allowing authentic and heart felt sharing of experiences. This sharing of stories resulted in a newly discovered bond among our team members. Graham truly demonstrates attentive listening while humbly bringing his expertise to the table. Graham is the ideal consultant… subtly challenging the status quo while encouraging movement toward a workplace that emanates the spirit of love. We are forever grateful for his friendship and guidance" - Eva Cooper, Chief Community Education Officer, The Pastoral Institute, Columbus, GA.

 

 

 

COVERAGE

Some conversation topics that we’ve been involved with include:

  • What are the Boundaries of what we’re prepared to discuss
  • The Masks we wear
  • Escaping Psychic Prisons
  • Change fatigue
  • Diversity and discord
  • What is the Spirit of our workplace?
  • Becoming Story-Competent on the journey to wholeness
  • Stifled Creativity and innovation
  • Making our workplace more Cohesive
  • Language, jargon, communication styles
  • I or We in Teams?
  • Superior Customer and stakeholder service
  • Living the organisation's Purpose
  • Developing a Culture of Sustainability
  • Entrenching Basic Business Skills and a Learning Culture
  • Empowering Beliefs and Limiting Beliefs
  • Sales Performance
  • Knowledge Power
  • Enter Spirituality
  • Mastery
  • Leading to Flourish 
  • From Values to Virtues
  • Quality Coaching that Counts

These are crucial topics. The Conversation that Counts processes addresses and nudges change in foundational beliefs and entrenched mental models.

In addition, a survey is available for those who wish to explore within their organisation which conversation topics should be selected. And in support of our Corporate Governance Assessments we offer an assessment to raise the awareness of individual board members (existing or prospective)

This range of conversations:

  • helps ready the organisation for the future, in terms of agility and resilience, diversity, creativity and innovation, workplace culture
  • stimulates engagement, learning, attention to sustainability and leadership
  • explores the 'soul' of organisations and addresses areas where there may be dysfunction - psychic prisons, cohesion, authenticity, divisiveness and conflict
  • and facilitates improvement where there are shortcomings - teamwork, basic business skills

These conversations lead to purposeful, owned action results, and inter alia, support efforts to unearth and develop core, supporting and threshold values. As a result of adopting our process one client is moving purposefully away from a militaristic culture to a service culture. Another has overcome enormous diversity conflict and accompanying low morale and performance. Yet another client facing ongoing, major change is vigorously building resilience.

More detailed descriptions of the surveys are available from centserv@iafrica.com (or visit https://culturescan.biz)  

SURVEY COMBINATIONS

A few conversations that are appropriate to the challenge being faced by an organisation may be combined. For example in the case of a:

 

  • Disruptive, radical change threat requiring adaptions to business processes, people and technology - then creativity and innovation, customer service, building resilience and team work may be selected, (the latter two conversations being especially apt during post-merger or reengineering situations).
  • Major employment equity change where the organisation has lagged behind and wishes to appoint Black directors, leaders and managers on a fairly large scale, they would benefit from - diversity, cohesiveness and change fatigue conversations.
  • Serious level of underperformance, a package of conversations including - team work, basic business skills and learning, the spirit of the workplace, living the purpose, psychic prisons, story, empowering and limiting beliefs, using knowledge power, mastery, superior customer service and excellent sales performance is indicated …
  • Mismatch between external image and reputation and internal cultural reality? A client offering counselling, coaching and training services, staffed by independent professionals in different areas, and needing fresh purpose, behaviours to be exhibited congruently with espoused values - concerned about emerging and unhelpful cultural dynamics … opted for initiating conversations around taboo conversations, authenticity and the spirit of their workplace. As a result they have embarked on a significant transformation journey.
  • Need to discover an organisation’s soul. In order to pursue this intention a new CEO/ Owner of a Retail franchise organisation, selected from - leading to flourish, psychic prison, cohesiveness, spirit of the workplace, living the purpose, craftmanship (mastery) empowering and limiting beliefs, enter spirituality and sustainability conversations
  • Entrench a servant leadership culture:

 

 A Developing Flourishing Leadership  programme that majors on trusting, caring relationships in order to produce admirable results, is gaining traction.  Our cutting edge programme addresses essential existential questions all successful leaders and aspiring leaders need to answer. It combines Leadership, Mastery and Purpose conversations, and aligns with the Avolio multi-level, lifespan model via bridging techniques that uncover unconscious biases, limiting narrative content, and strong motivational fingerprints ….  This programme is about both being and doing.

 

 

AND WHAT ABOUT A YEAR-END OR YEAR-START CAMPFIRE CHAT OR CAFE TABLE CONVERSATION?:

A unique event for your staff... introduce them to an exciting new way of communicating, sharing, passing on information, knowledge and wisdom. This will improve team dynamics and assertiveness as well as being a lot of fun.

Entertaining, Enlivening, Educational, Motivational.

Geared to your needs.

Contact us now or email centserv@iafrica.com