Talking About What You Are Not Talking About

Talking About What You Are Not Talking About

What do you consider to be the key drivers of your group’s effectiveness? Is it their ability to raise and address difficult issues? Is it their skill at being able to come to alignment on common goals or objectives? Perhaps it’s their ability to subordinate their personal agendas for the common good?

Regardless, the prerequisite for all of these is the ability to have open, honest and straight conversations. It’s not what you can talk about that makes a difference at work, it’s what you can’t. It’s always what you are not dealing with that’s controlling and shaping your team.

If you want things to be different in your organization, then you have to develop the willingness and ability to talk about what you are not talking about. Here’s one way to get started.

In functional groups, ask each member of the team to write down their background conversations (their stories, opinions, judgments, ideas and perceptions) about the company and the other departments within the organization they interact with.

For example: We had one manufacturing group whose background conversation about the engineering group went something like this:

Engineering is always building prototypes, which they design in partnership with the sales group and then take and sell to the customers. But they never consult with us (Manufacturing) about our capacity to build these or seek our input regarding the design.

This leads to customers saying, “Yes, we want that,” and engineering then handing off the design to us and our struggling to deliver what they promised. We resent engineering for not including us in the process and feel like they view us as an obstacle to success. The net result of this is poor customer satisfaction, loss of customers, poor product quality and lots of failures in output.

In order to address this issue, we brought manufacturing and engineering together to discuss their background conversations about each other, and, within 18 months, both profitability and customer satisfaction soared.

The bottom line is that you have to be honest about things that are not working company-wide. If everyone knows people are nervous about layoffs or competition, put it on the table. Discuss it. One of the myths is that you have to always be positive and pump people up. But the most refreshing thing is honesty — both about the good and the bad.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

3 replies
  1. Holly Woods
    Holly Woods says:

    Leaders are inherently important this proces because they are the targets of voice. If they send signals that they are open, interested, and willing to act on subordinate suggestions, it is logical to expect there employees will be motivated to do so; conversely, where employees perceive leaders behavior to indicate it is either unsafe or futile to speak up, they are less likely to do so. Obvious stuff.

  2. Joy Kessler
    Joy Kessler says:

    The problem with the anonymous submissions at a meeting is that everyone knows everyone else’s writing. Believe me, we have tried this and people still hold back.

  3. Jesse Burch
    Jesse Burch says:

    It’s so much easier not too stand up and be the voice of change, it’s much more of a secure move job-wise as well


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