Organizations and teams that are able to foster meaningful conversations are ahead of the game. Meaningful and honest conversations help minimize communication problems, and increase productivity, by coming together around shared goals. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. Body language, subtext, and culture heavily influence the conversations we have. Additionally, organizational politics, mistrust or fear of vulnerability can hold back honest communication all together.
So how do you as an individual, regardless of position, begin to create the space for meaningful conversations? It takes patience, persistence, confidence and a checklist. This checklist is by no means an exhaustive summary on how to create meaningful conversations, it is a starter kit you can use to begin the process.
Know your history
Have you ever wondered why individuals don’t speak up in meetings, but have something to say back in their office? Perhaps an individual spoke up once and was reprimanded, or maybe the senior leaders are new on the scene and people are waiting to test the waters. Whatever the situation is, you will only find out by participating in those 'closed door' conversations. This doesn't mean you have to actively talk, but you should listen to how people speak about their leaders, organizational structure, and any proposed changes. This is a clue into your organizational culture, and can help you choose the best path towards starting meaningful conversations.
Find a confidant
If you are new to the organization, or just genuinely curious as to why meaningful conversations do or do not take place in your organization, seek out someone you trust and ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. This furthers your knowledge on your organization, and can give you a sounding board to run through comments or questions you want to ask in a larger group setting.
Trust can be the linchpin in whether meaningful conversations take place. Build trust in your organization through your work, and by crafting relationships with a variety of your coworkers. It can be hard to branch out and you might feel uncomfortable (I'm looking at you introverts), however the foundation you build through these relationships will provide the support and trust you need for meaningful conversations.
Yes, I said it. Folks may feel some type of way about team building but it does serve a purpose, and that is to build trust and foster relationships. Team building allows individuals to open up about themselves and, thereby, create a deeper bond past the 9-to-5 work day. This certainly won't happen overnight, but if you keep at it (persistence and patience) you will see results. Team building has another important aspect, and that is to uncover blind spots. Meaningful conversations are often halted out of assumptions or misconceptions about the individuals we work with. Breaking down those assumptions and uncovering our own blind spots, removes barriers we naturally put up when around individuals we do not know.
Be the catalyst: Stand up; Raise your hand; Speak!
This is where confidence (aka bravery) comes in. Sometimes beginning a meaningful conversation means being the first to speak. This can be challenging given your role or status in the organization, but it is important nonetheless. I guarantee the question you ask is one others have and no one benefits when it is not heard. Don’t let a question circulate behind closed doors where it can create suspicion, mistrust or fear. Speak up! While this does involve some amount of risk, if your words will help the organization, then they are worth saying.
Meaningful conversations are needed in every organization, and at every level. With open and honest conversations, teams and departments will produce greater results and build momentum towards shared goals. There will always be a risk that what you say or ask is not taken favorably, however most individuals who contribute to the conversation do so because they want their organization to succeed. The next time your organization is having a discussion or a meeting, raise your hand and speak.