Sabtu, 18 Agustus 2012

Mind The Gap In Conversations

If you have traveled on the London underground, I'm sure you are familiar with the voice recording that reminds us to "mind the gap" each time we step on and off the train.

Imagine commuting to London every day and hearing "mind the gap" when we step on and "mind the gap" when we step off, day in, day out. After a while, we will not hear the recording anymore because we will have edited it out from our consciousness. It will have become meaningless background noise.

In the workplace, it's much the same, except we don't have the recording to remind us. Every time we step into a conversation and every time we step off from a conversation, there's always a gap. The width of the gap depends on many factors, including how clear the reason for the conversation was understood, how much each person participated and how well the outcome was articulated and owned.

Over time, and often unbeknown to us, the gap in certain conversations can take on a life of its own - it gets bigger and bigger, and sometimes it increases exponentially.

The gap is a moving divide that represents a lack of shared understanding between parties. For example, a gap can grow between two people, or between employees and management or between the organization, its customers and stakeholders.

If we did have a voice warning us every time we stepped into a conversation, it should be "close the gap," so that when we step off from the conversation, everyone is on the same platform, so to speak.

William Isaacs, in his book Dialogue and the art of thinking together,said that "Dialogue... is a conversation with a centre, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before."

The concept of having a centre to every conversation, and not taking sides, in other words, not creating a gap, is foreign to the way many of us have been acculturized through our schools, religious institutions and families.

Part of our acculturation is our response to positional power and hierarchy within the organization. If we respond to authority with compliance or defiance for example, we bring less than our full selves to the table.

If one could quantify the actual loss of collaboration, creativity and engagement, we'd be astounded at what it costs the business when we do not close gaps in the workplace.

It's the conversations we have with ourselves where the first cracks appear. This can happen when we censor our truth because we fear authority or because we do not want to lose approval.

The gaps in the conversations we have with ourselves and the gaps that result when we think we have communicated well with others, creates environments of less coherence and decreased engagement. These gaps of omission and misunderstanding impact on employees and customers, and add avoidable real costs and stress to the workplace.

The fact that gaps exist in every organization invites the creation of a new type of balance sheet, one that includes the hard numbers combined with the cost of pain points and stressors as a result of gaps that grow between our customers, colleagues and stakeholders.

Close the gap

To close gaps at work and home and enjoy greater clarity, coherence and better outcomes, we need to engage in real dialogue: the courageous exchange of meaning that invites self-disclosure in which we explore and express our gut feelings, our insights, our true perspectives, and our concerns.

When we engage in this kind of communication, we risk being vulnerable. And yet, it's when we seem most vulnerable that the magic happens. Engaging authentically opens the door for greater respect and collaboration and closes gaps that limit coherence.

Surprising outcomes can result such as:

    Improved productivity
    Improved morale and staff retention
    Enriched professional and personal relationships
    Decreased political posturing and power games
    Improved organizational coherence
    Improved performance and
    More productive conversations at all levels

So, how does one go about minding and closing gaps?

We believe that three simple elements used interchangeably will close the gap in any conversation:

    To Examine my assumptions and perceptions;
    To Explore the other person's experience with curiosity rather than judgment; and
    To Express my experience honestly and authentically

Used skilfully, the three E's of engagement create the rhythm of authentic engagement.

As we practise the rhythm of engagement, we get better at closing gaps at work and building coherence that yields amazing and unexpected outcomes.

Dene Rossouw is co-founder of and in Vancouver, specializing in influencing and innovative solutions. He helps his clients have the necessary conversations of leadership and helps organizations innovate by leveraging the power of employee ideas. He can be reached at 1.778.386.5167.

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