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Dialogue Skills: Mastering The Workplace Conversations You Dread

Dialogue: an exchange of ideas, opinions, information, experiences or assumptions on a particular issue.

Consider the long list of companies that have lost zillions in shareholder funds because of plummeting values or, even worse, consider those that have gone belly-up altogether - mostly because of stupid mistakes, dishonest action or both.

Very often these destructive corporate events are portrayed as the result of a bad leader acting in isolation or a few senior people conspiring for their own benefit. However on almost every occasion these negative events also require the acquiescence of many others who may notice inefficiencies or irregularities but who choose to remain silent.

The positive mirror-image of this is also true. The high standards of truly great organisations are not maintained exclusively by a CEO or the senior executive group. A high performing organisation absolutely requires the verbal participation of employees who are prepared to voice ideas and opinions assertively when warranted. But unfortunately in many workplaces this confidence to speak up has been replaced by a destructive silence.

What causes this culture of silence? The answer is - a lack of dialogue skills. Where the level of skilling is low so is confidence. In addition most people are naturally uncomfortable about raising bad news and many view with absolute dread any conversation that has a potential for conflict. For example conversations such as giving negative feedback, confronting a colleague, putting a strong point of view to the boss or a client, voicing an opinion when outnumbered, confronting a bully, and pointing out flaws or raising product or service concerns. Lack of dialogue skills usually means that these conversations do not take place or they happen when it is too late.

Dialogue skills can be improved across the whole organisation, within a team or at an individual level by adopting an executive coaching program that usually concentrates on the following basic concepts:

Creating Safety: All relationships, whether outside or within the workplace, can be temporarily or permanently derailed simply because individuals do not feel safe to say what they are really thinking. One of the keys to good dialogue is learning how to build safety into a conversation and maintain it throughout.

Questioning Reality: Because thoughts are a reflection of our own views this means that multiple competing realities exist simultaneously and this often creates a communication blockage. It is possible to question your own and your conversation partnerís reality without blame or recriminations thereby creating openness and making it possible to arrive at your goals.

Making Dialogue Genuine: Before having a tough conversation with anyone else have one with yourself because gaining absolute clarity regarding your own motivation will display itself in attitude and behaviour so when you go into that important dialogue your demeanor will physically manifest the picture your mind sends to it. If you have had the correct conversation with yourself that picture will be genuineness.

Sharpen Listening. Hearing and listening is not the same thing and a closer look at successful listening shows that it is not a natural process, it requires conscious effort and the process consists of discrete stages. Many people with perfect hearing have very imperfect listening due to any one or more of eight recognised poor listening behaviours.

Never Delay Conversations You Dread. Hand in hand with the courage to question reality comes the bravery to speedily confront your toughest professional issues. Very often the delay in having these dreaded conversations is caused by a lack of skill. There is a distinct process for having a challenging conversation and emerging with a successful outcome.

Silence Is Good. Silence during a conversation makes most of us uneasy which is why, when both parties feel this way, the conversation is usually full of words rather than meaning, simply to avoid silence. This type of conversation lacks any real substance and the goals of the conversation are often not met. The more emotional the subject then the more silence is required.

Act Upon Your Instincts. There will always be a situation where we simply just know that something is wrong and no amount of research or rational inquiry is going to alter the gut feeling that it will all fall apart unless you say something. That is fine as long as you first take the time to listen very carefully to your own individual internal voice. We need to listen to more than just the content; we need to listen also for emotion and intent.

Be Accountable For The Emotional Results. For any person in any type of leadership position it is almost impossible to pass even a trivial comment without some sort of emotional result, positive or negative. Because we have little control over the emotions of others we should instead focus on ourselves. Taking responsibility for the emotional results means that you must always take people WITH you rather than leaving them floundering in an emotional whirlpool.

Once the detail behind these concepts is learned, practised and modelled the overall payoff is an increase in organisational performance through a more articulate, more highly engaged workforce and reductions in conflict, all resulting in higher morale and improved staff retention.

And there is a bonus - the fact that you can carry these skills from the workplace into those tough conversations you need to have in your non-professional life.

Submitted by:

Sam Galea

Sam Galea is the principal of Coachability a Sydney (Aust) based executive coaching practice specialising in workplace communication skills that have the potential to improve the performance of individuals and teams. He is also a Facilitator & Speaker. http://www.coachability.com.au Phone +61411644353




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