Posted by: healingtheworkplace | August 19, 2009

Build Trust–Facilitate Focused Conversations At Work

Hi there, this week I am preparing to facilitate a board-senior management planning day. I will be using dialogue as a way of encouraging the group to share their ideas, assumptions, and concerns.

Dialogue is an important “tool” for healing our workplaces. Dialogue is a form of conversation. There are many books and websites dedicated to ensuring the understanding and success of this approach.

One book that I particularly like is The Art of Focused Conversation which is edited by R. Brian Stanfield. This book provides a brief introduction to dialogue. The book offers a process and examples for using a more structured approach to dialogue which is called “the focused conversation”.

Chapter 1 of The Art of Focused Conversation begins with two questions:

1. Why conversations?

2. Why the workplace?

“A conversation with one person can solve a problem, or help heal a wound. A conversation with several people can generate commitment, bond a team, generate new options, or build a vision.”

Pretty powerful stuff, right?

So why don’t more organizations encourage these kind of conversations?

  • people don’t have the time (or they will try and use that excuse)
  • people don’t know how to have “focused conversation”
  • people don’t see the value in spending time in conversation
  • people are rewarded for being competitive

What are some other reasons?

The following is another quote from The Art of Focused Conversation:

“A whole string of changes in the workplace, sometimes referred to as “the organizational revolution”, or “the new workplace paradigm”, are supporting increased communication, conversation, and participation.”

These changes are slow in coming but necessassry if organizations are to move beyond “token participation” and really engage all workers in sharing their experience, knowledge, skills and ideas.

There is too much strife in many workplaces. Not a day goes by without someone I know telling me about the “problems” that they encounter at work. These “problems” sap people’s energy, destroy moral, and seriously hamper people’s ability to do their work (aka productivity).

Many of these “problems” can only be solved by engaging people in meaningful conversations about their work.

“Organizations today need meetings (YES THEY DO) to help people move from a reactive into a proactive focus on solutions. They need meetings that give people as much say as possible over the issues that affect their lives and their work.”

These meetings must be different!

In order to make these meetings succeed you will need to learn how to “facilitate” them.

Initially “ground rules” or “agreements” are necessary to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and is able to contribute.

Here are some principles for dialogue/focused conversations:

  • the purpose of dialogue is to understand and learn from one another (you cannot “win” a dialogue)
  • treat everyone in a dialogue as an equal–leave role, staus and stereotypes at the door
  • be open and listen to others especially when you disagree
  • search for assumptions…especially your own.

These conversations are very powerful.  You may seem awkward when you facilitate your first couple of “focused conversations” but like anything that is worthwhile…you’ll get better with practice.




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