Leaders must be intentional about establishing robust dialogue as standard practice among team members. Don’t just give your team permission to engage in robust dialogue, insist on it. A Hay Group survey found that, in general, people are less inclined to give constructive feedback to higher-status individuals. That’s why they must be given permission, and even encouraged, to speak up.
Explain to your team what robust dialogue is, why it’s advantageous, and establish it as standard practice. Set some ground rules such as these:
- Everyone should be honest with their comments but also kind and considerate. Don’t be timid about speaking your mind but don’t be rude.
- When you proffer an idea and people begin to hack at it, don’t be insecure and defensive; they’re not critiquing you, they’re commenting on the idea. Don’t be thin-skinned.
- On major issues, everyone needs to give their opinion. Often, those with an outgoing personality will speak first and most, while those who are quiet and reserved will be reluctant to speak. By soliciting everyone’s thoughts, all voices are heard. Furthermore, those who are most opposed to an idea may be silent in the meeting but sabotage the idea later on. By soliciting everyone’s opinion, potential critics are forced to speak up sooner.
- Assure everyone that opposing thoughts will not be punished. Robust dialogue will not flourish if people think that their frankness may be used against them. Even affirm those who express disagreements and opposition (if they do so appropriately).
- Make it clear that following robust dialogue, a decision will be made that may or may not satisfy everyone’s input, but that everyone should support the decision. Robust dialogue is an exercise in both open communication involving individual preferences and opinions and consensus-building that should lead to communal support.
It takes a lot of emotional fortitude to establish robust dialogue in your organization—if you’re insecure or narrow-minded, you’ll be reluctant to do so. It also requires emotional maturity—if you’re domineering, autocratic, or manipulative, robust dialogue will be unsustainable.
How do you know if robust dialogue is happening in your organization? It’s either happening or it’s not. In other words, if you don’t frequently hear phrases such as “I don’t agree with that.” or “What’s another alternative?” or “Could we discuss that further?” or “I don’t feel entirely comfortable with that.”— then robust dialogue is not a part of your organizational culture. The total absence of differing views, opinions, and perspectives is a dead give-away that you need to proactively work to establish robust dialogue as a normal aspect of your organization’s communication.
Brigadier General Ted Mercer Jr. says, “Feedback is a gift. It’s a way of giving help.” A hardy feedback system will make you, and your organization, stronger.