As I lie awake one night wondering what to do with the numerous issues that people are sharing with me but are unwilling to surface to those best suited to address their concerns, this potential solution to my dilemma emerged: challenge leaders to ask this question “What is it that I should know that no one wants to tell me?” Let me set the stage… I recently attended the ACMP Change Management conference where keynote speaker Susan Scott founder of Fierce Inc opened with a discussion about The “Change” Conversation: Getting to Ground Truth. Susan expounded on the notion that change efforts and critical endeavors in general fail (or succeed) gradually then suddenly ‘one failed / missing (or successful) conversation at a time’. Her keynote message was so compelling that I watched Susan’s Case for Radical Transparency TedTALK and started reading her book Fierce Conversations.
Another session at this Change Management conference entitled Straight Talk – A Critical Ingredient for Creating Movement and Change by Alex Wray of Wray Group introduced the concept of conversational capacity – ‘the ability to have open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about the tough issues and under challenging or difficult circumstances.’ Wray highlighted the negative impact of ‘making decisions in corridors…not together’ and underscored the need to create a culture where more critical issues are ‘above the line’ than ‘below the line’
I'm growing increasingly concerned that many leaders have created a ‘corridor culture’ in which critical issues that affect their organizational health are not being productively discussed ‘above the line’ with the right people. I feel privileged to be a trusted partner with whom the leaders that I serve feel safe to share their frustrations, worries & downright fears about the state of their companies, careers, and relationships. Yet, I yearn for them to demonstrate the capacity to have the fierce conversations needed to address these important topics! What’s stopping them? 9 times out of 10, it’s fear – plain and simple. Fear of rejection. Fear of reprisal. Fear of facing the truth. Fear of not saying it just right. These qualms are certainly understandable.
I had the habit of changing out the inspirational quotes on my desk daily until I encountered this one: “Speak the TRUTH, even if your voice shakes.” I kept this displayed prominently on my desk for over a year until I finally placed it on my Vision Board a few months ago. I’ve been pushing myself to model this mantra, especially when it could be easier to just stay quiet. I suppose that since I’ve been exercising this muscle myself, I’m more sensitive to witnessing this atrophy in my business partners, clients and loved ones. What I see disturbs and saddens me. It has also piqued a passion in me to issue this Fierce Conversation challenge:
Ask your teams, colleagues, stakeholders and loved ones: “What is it that I should know that no one wants to tell me?”
Respond by really listening and asking clarifying questions with the intent to learn and understand their perspective. Resist the temptation to counter with a defense or justification.
Truthfully and honestly answer the question when it is posed to you.
Neuroscience shows that it’s against our human nature to have straight talk, so I know that what I’m asking of you may be difficult. Can you envision operating in a culture where radical transparency and fierce conversational capacity enable critical issues to be productively discussed ‘above the line’? If so, let that vision fuel your commitment to developing the ART of speaking the truth, ‘even if your voice shakes.’
Regina Ross is a certified HR & Change Management Practitioner and ICF-credentialed Executive Coach who helps leaders successfully navigate organizational and personal transformations. Contact Regina at email@example.com, 951-768-4965, or www.walkonpurpose.com/contact.