Learning How to Talk for the Organization

We were with the president of an organization. He spoke of positive communication and collective performance. He said, that in making decisions, how people communicate matters. They have the courage to speak with authenticity and vulnerability. They have to not only share what they know, they also have to share what they do not know. They are not in the room to demonstrate their expertise, they are in the room for a higher purpose and to pursue it they have to create collective intelligence or the ability to co-create learning at an elevated level.

By way of illustration he told us of his first meeting as president. There was a problem he could not solve. He presented the problem to his people. They were making no progress. He pointed out that no one in the room had the answer and they had to learn their way into the answer. Then he shocked them by saying, “You have to tell me what you really feel.”

He explained that the strong personalities in the room needed to share feelings and listen with respect. They needed to build trust so the social network could be transformed into a highly cohesive learning system. If one person could share honest feelings with tentativeness, another might offer a strategy, and then another might respectfully and constructively challenge either or both. The first two might then gladly withdraw their inputs. This would signal that the meeting was an authentic learning conversation, and the signal might inspire still another to offer a new and equally tentative possibility.

He then gave a personal example. He said, “My wife and I had to learn how to communicate. We are no longer interested in who is right or wrong but in what is best for the family. We express the feelings of our hearts and we search to establish common ground. We do this without ever breaking the relationship. You have to be careful, if you state your opinion too strongly, you shut down conversation.”

Reflection

  • What emerges when people authentically share what they feel, including their ignorance?
  • Why do the feelings and proposals need to be stated tentatively?
  • Why is it necessary to put the good of the collective ahead of ego?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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