Encourage robust dialogue

dialogue-cartoon-300x242In 1997, managers at Samsung didn’t question a $13 billion investment that would take the company into the automobile industry because the idea’s champion, Samsung Chairman and CEO Kun-Hee Lee, was a forceful personality and a car buff. When Samsung Motors folded only a year into production, Lee wondered why no one had expressed reservations. (Teams That Click, HBSP, pg. 74)

Robust dialogue could have prevented Samsung’s debacle.

Simply stated, robust dialogue occurs in a group when everyone is encouraged, allowed, and even required to give their unfiltered input on issues. The value of robust dialogue is: Every idea or plan will be improved upon when submitted to the unfiltered wisdom and input of others.

Robust dialogue is not just the right thing to do; it is the best thing to do. It’s not just politically correct, it is practically helpful.

The prelude to robust dialogue may sound like this:

  • The boss says, “I’ve got an idea and I would really value everyone’s input. I want you to be totally honest.”
  • A team member says, “My division is thinking about offering a new service, but before we get very far down the road, I want to get your opinion on the project.”
  • A team member says, “I think we’re going in the wrong direction on this project.”

Bossidy and Charan teach that robust dialogue is based on openness, candor, and informality.

  • Openness—people are not trapped by preconceptions; they’re open-minded.
  • Candor—people speak candidly and express their real opinions. Truth is valued more than harmony.
  • Informality—informal dialogue invites questions, mental experimentation, and creative and critical thinking. Formality suppresses dialogue and leaves little room for debate.
    (Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, pg. 102)

Robust dialogue will help maintain a transparent and healthy workplace. It’s amazing how often there’s an elephant in the room, but no one is willing to acknowledge it. Clarke and Crossland warn, “Every time your team avoids the critical ‘real issues,’ you lose. Every time the discussion outside the meeting room—physical or virtual—is dramatically different from the discussion inside the room, you lose.” (The Leader’s Voice, pg. 118)

Often, we avoid challenging dialogue because we value unanimity and harmony. But when we ignore the tough issues, we inadvertently dilute any sense of consensus; true alliance is achieved only when all the major issues have been identified and wrestled with. Consensus is good, unless it is achieved too easily, in which case it becomes suspect.

Robust dialogue is not only helpful in the workplace, it will also improve dialogue among family members and friends. See a previous post—Don’t go to Abilene—for an example of how robust dialogue might help family communications.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]
What? – Robust dialogue should be present in all conversations, particularly when decisions are being made.
So what? – Robust dialogue will empower individuals and strengthen organizations.
Now what? – Integrate robust dialogue into your life and career. If you lead a group, make robust dialogue part of the culture; if you are a member of a group that doesn’t benefit from it, share this post with the group leader.

Leaders – Click here for more thoughts about how robust dialogue can enhance your organization.

10 Replies to “Encourage robust dialogue”

  1. This is so true and thought provoking in where we are in life. To not be scared to say anything when you have an idea or way to improve or help with the direction of a situation or idea.

    1. Judy, thanks for your response. I’ll never understand why some leaders are so intimidating and unwelcoming of other people’s thoughts. Kind regards, Don

  2. Done, I agree with this article wholeheartedly. Back in my career days I was part of the executive management team. When we had our meetings everyone would express their opinions and then when it was all over, unfortunately, the CEO would override most of the opinions about 9 out of 10 times. I was finally able to distance myself from this company after several years and join a company where the upper management was happy and excited to hear real opinions and counted them and their final decision.

    1. Ed, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s sad when leaders don’t solicit the input of others because “all of us are smarter than one of us.”
      Thanks for our friendship. Don

  3. I do hope you sent this to Obama!
    Seriously, I love what you have shared. Having worked in 3 Bible colleges, this whole concept was never was a part of the leadership’s thinking. You have put into words what I was feeling, which in turn solidifies my own thinking. However, it would not have been received by the president or the finance dept. at those schools who are the ones who seem most determined for it to be under their control. PERIOD. And this in spite of the number of men who were so qualified to have made meaningful contributions. Thank you for helping us to think OUTSIDE THE BOX!

    1. Thanks, Taylor, for sharing your thoughts. It’s sad that leaders don’t understand that “all of us are smarter than one of us.” Especially in religious organizations, some leaders are reluctant to submit their ideas to others.
      Kind regards, Don.

  4. I have seen this done well but unfortunately human nature means that some players do not want to hear the comments of others if it will stand in the way of their own goals or desires. Domination, manipulation and control can undermine team working.

    1. Angela, you’re right. If the leader is insecure or has chosen to lead by intimidation, fear or guilt, robust dialogue just won’t work. Leaders need to understand that “all of us are smarter than one of us.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. So many times it’s been the leader’s fear of being challenged which has stood in the way of meaningful dialogue. I call it the Humpty-Dumpty effect. But when we figure out a delicate way of approaching a subject–e.g. putting it in the form of a “I wonder if…?”–it isn’t so threatening and often opens up a dialogue without directly confronting the leader’s point of view. This week I was involved in a Board committee meeting in which that is exactly what happened, and it led to a very open discussion of a very difficult subject, ending in a whole different approach to the subject at hand.

    1. Kendel, I think you’re on to something. How we initially challenge something is so important. If we come across as helpful instead of oppositional, it will make a huge difference. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Don

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