Are You Leading with Open-Minded Conversations?

Published on
October 24, 2016
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Polarization of historic proportions, racial divide, technological challenges and globalization—we are all experiencing stress and uncertainty in our volatile, complex and uncertain environment. Closed-mindedness and miscommunication are at the heart of this uncertainty causing damage to relationships, bottom lines, and lives. What are leaders to do?

I’d like to share an example from my coaching practice, where I was able to effectively direct conversations between colleagues to a more open-minded, and productive place, using the 5 steps or moves I outline in my book OASIS Conversations: Leading with an Open Mindset to Maximize Potential.

Cheryl, an executive coaching client, faced a challenge in her global workplace. She heard from her boss that a colleague, Alya, had said that she was “power hungry and non-collaborative.” Cheryl was upset and her immediate reaction was to refuse to work with Alya and to spread some negative views about her.

As I spoke with Cheryl, I gave her empathy about her disappointment and anger at her teammate’s remarks. With the empathy, Cheryl, was able to soften, and become curious about Alya’s remark.

Upon reflection, she recalled how an important client had asked her to meet the next day when they were in the same city for a conference. Cheryl immediately changed her plans to accommodate the client that represented significant funds for her organization. She knew that Alya’s role was to be the client service connector. She alerted Alya to the client’s request and invited Alya to join via email. Alya did not join and Cheryl had not focused on including her. She felt she was doing what was right. After all, the client had requested to meet with her, the subject expert.

As we reflected, Cheryl, could imagine that Alya did not feel respected in her role and did not feel appreciated for her client service efforts. She recognized that Alya was relatively new to the role and that it must be difficult given the scope of her role and the many challenges. At the same time, Cheryl was upset that Alya spoke negatively about her to their boss. The negative remark could impact her evaluation.

Cheryl decided to have a conversation with Alya to understand her point of view further, and to build their relationship.

Cheryl noticed her judgment signals—a tightness in her chest, awareness of her heart pounding, and her internal assumptions that Alya was weak and competitive. She was able to notice her response and to stop, step back and shift to being open. She recalled her goal to be open minded and to create positive connections.

Cheryl made an appointment with Alya to have an open-minded conversation. She recalled the OASIS Moves I taught her and made sure to remain open and not defensive.

She shared her Observation, “I heard that you stated that I am not cooperative. I want to hear your concerns and see what we can do to create a more positive and effective relationship.”

She separated the observation from Awareness of her assumptions, emotions and background. “I assume you may be upset about my meeting with our big client at the conference and my failure to update you. I realize it is your role to interface with the client and I didn’t see that we had options when the request to meet was so sudden.”

Cheryl was able to Shift to being open and reiterate her intention of finding a way of communicating that worked for both of them.

Then Cheryl paused to hear what was Important to Alya. Yes, Alya felt angry and disrespected that she was not serving as the liaison with the client when it was her role. She was doubly angry to not hear the follow up. She did not recall the memo inviting her at the last minute and she already had a full schedule at the conference anyway. She would have preferred that another date was established where she could join. Cheryl was able to remain open and give Alya empathy.

The key is that Cheryl was able to keep an open mind and understand what was most important to each of them. Alya needed respect for her role and to be kept informed. Cheryl needed respect for her expertise and to be able to communicate with clients when they approach her. Both needed to be kept apprised of developments.

They agreed on the following Solutions: Alya and Cheryl would have bimonthly meetings to update each other on projects and client interactions. They would copy each other on related emails and communications. When feasible, they would work to both meet with the client and to clarify their roles to the client. They would speak to each other about concerns directly before going to others. They also agreed to have dinner together and get to know each other more at the next conference they were both attending.

By catching her reaction when hearing negative news, Cheryl was able to shift from judgment to being open, and to then engage in an open-minded conversation. The effort saved the relationship between Cheryl and Alya and the benefit extended to their teams and to the leadership team they were a part of.

Unfortunately, many fail to engage in these mind opening conversations. Things stay unresolved and become more and more difficult to unravel. When we are able to notice our natural response of negativity bias and to shift to becoming open, we can make a difference in our complex environments. While it is not always easy it is worth the effort. Adapting an open mindset and practicing the skills of OASIS conversations opens minds to possibilities and achieving unparalleled results. What open-minded conversation will you engage in today?

Ann Van Eron, Ph.D., MCC is founder and principal of Potentials, and the author of OASIS Conversations: Leading with an Open Mindset to Maximize Potential.