Sustaining Dialogue

Bob Schultek Author of
The Gauntlet

There’s never enough time. That’s why it’s difficult to slow down and recognize meaningful moments that require more attentiveness.

Perhaps it’s a mentoring moment when your time is focused on developing the skills of a direct report. Or maybe it’s during a team meeting that’s considering a change initiative and you need theircommitment to the change.
Whenever these moments occur, they are times for asking questions and listening, not assuming and telling. They are times when it’s essential to encourage and sustain dialogue.
Dialogue clarifies expectations, promotes curiosity and reveals motivations that enable alternative waysforward to emerge so that the best means for achieving an objective may be chosen. Without this exchange of competing, often conflicting ideas, the number of alternatives to be considered is limited, and the ability to secure commitment to the final decision is compromised.

Leaders understand that sustaining a dialogue requires that they first suspend their sense of knowing what’s required, and being humble enough to refrain from sharing their perspective so that they and others may learn from the pending discussion. This mindset, and the compelling need for commitment, justifies the time investment necessary for productive dialogue to develop.

Then, having prepared themselves, leaders rely on these two skills to sustain the dialogue:

First, they monitor the flow of the discussion. By constantly assessing the flow of the conversation, they determine if it’s progressing, or sliding towards silence or perhaps, excessive emotion. The passionate exchange of ideas is healthy, as long as the emotion leads to a rational evaluation of the shared perspectives. If dialogue is fading, then they recover momentum by raising awareness that progress has stalled, and challenging the participants to continue by refocusing attention on the key points under discussion. If the conversation continues to be inhibited, then the second skill is employed. 

If necessary, they recover the safe space. Stalled dialogue is most often due to a sense of threat, which must be removed to reignite the conversation. Expressions of empathy, vulnerability and tolerance by the leader help recover a comfort level, a sense of safe space, which enables the continued sharing of ideas. They take responsibility for the stall, and then relaunch the conversation by asking why a position is important and what is needed from the leader or others.

These two skills are core tools for sustaining dialogue to resolve differences and secure commitment.

How do you encourage dialogue as a means to secure commitment?

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