Monday, April 21, 2008

Engaging in Conversation: Generative or Dialogue of the Deaf?

Every time I walk into a new class to teach, I'm always blown away at the depth of conversation that evolves over the two day period. No matter what the makeup of the people in the room, the dialogue is always amazing! The level of trust, engagement and respect for each other is always off the charts. I believe it's because they know they will all evolve through dialogue.

One of the topics I cover in my training is assumptions. When we assume someone is coming from a certain place and work with them based on that context, everything that unfolds after that assumption is based on air, not fact. We have to ask the fundamental relevant questions in order to build something strong and of substance.

How often does that happen even in organizations? When we engage in conversation with someone it’s for many reasons such as fact finding, validation, direction, and perspective. When we speak to someone only to validate our current knowledge and perspective, it’s not a two way conversation; it’s a dialogue of the deaf.

As Coaches, we are usually called in to work with people to help them evolve to their level of excellence. If all we did was validate what they already knew without exploring the rest, they’d pretty much stay exactly where they were. Our roles are to help people move forward. Isn’t that the role of leadership? If the powers that be don’t engage in generative dialogue, they are eliminating the fact finding, direction and perspective they might need to move the entire organization forward.

Nic Askew recently shared “ ‘Inner-vision' comes from within the organization, from deep inside an individual or group of individuals. 'Purpose' is often a construct of the words & ideas of others, disguised as an original idea.” In order to do that we not only have to hear, we have to listen to all the players not just the upper echelon. It’s a way to capture the intangibles, the soul of an organization and let it emerge in a powerful way. It’s not taking words that sound good and try to force an organization to fit them.

Life happens through every experience, interaction and conversation. We have to pay attention to what that means and to what the ramifications might be when we don’t. Awareness is curative….and generative. Generative dialogue creates newfound awareness. Then we can build careers, people, and organizations. If leaders hide their heads in the sand, breakdown will happen at all levels. It's imperative people listen to the truth of a situation, so they act on what is. Building on assumptions is like a house of cards that will fall down at their feet.

Donna Karlin

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