Robust Conversations: The art of building strong and responsible teams – Part II

In Part I of this article (Read Here), we introduced the idea of robust conversations as frank, healthy and direct conversations that take place immediately, when you first see something that concerns you. They serve to ‘nip things in the bud’.

Robust conversations have an open outcome with a view to exploring creative solutions. You come away with specific actions and agreement on how they will be measured.  This means you both leave the conversation with clarity on, and accountability for, the set of actions you’ve agreed.

The individual has time to course-correct, and you check in regularly, keeping space open for further robust conversations. Because robust conversations are an ongoing journey to say what needs to be said, in a way that people will hear it.


Equipping our People to have Robust Conversations

There are ‘three secrets’ – three places from which your people can act, or call others to account.  They set a benchmark for behaviour, and form the basis for your people to have Robust Conversations.  It’s up to you, as their leader, to ensure these “three secrets” are crystal clear.

  1. Vision and Values

You need to have a clear organisational vision – your people need to know where you’re going as an organisation – and you need to give them powerful values with distinctions that explain how each value comes to life in your organisation.For example, at Integrity and Values, one of our values is Curiosity, and its distinction is ‘honouring contributions’.  Recently, a member of my team called me up with an idea – I was busy with something else at the time and just shut her down. Having this distinction gave her the opportunity to push back and have a challenging conversation with me, because she (rightly) felt I was acting outside of our Curiosity value.

  1. Fight clean or fight dirty

Great cultures don’t have ‘no fight’. They have the capacity to have the fight – but they fight clean. By that I mean, focusing on the issue, not the person. Fighting clean buys you the freedom to dance inside the conversations, to explore opportunities and to create a whole other context to move you forward.  That’s where the magic happens!

  1. The Fun Test

At Integrity and Values, we have a powerful individual leadership assessment tool [link to more info on the assessment tool] – that analyses individuals traits, highlighting leadership strengths, but more importantly, weaknesses and blind spots that undermine success. This includes a very revealing seven questions on having fun, that you can put into your business.
Robust Conversation play an important part in Conflict Resolution

Where there is conflict in a business – there is a need for a robust conversation.  Conflict often causes people to shut up, shut down and not say what needs to be said. Or people become aggressive, or passive aggressive – all of which are highly destructive behaviours that do not help to resolve the underlying conflict or move the business forward.

There are two steps to conflict resolution:

  1. Express what you want
  2. Find out if what you want can or will be met.

If the answer is yes, you have resolution. If the answer is no, you need to have a Robust Conversation.  Keep the dialogue open and negotiate what could be.  People are hungry for feedback and for the conversation you could have with them.  Robust conversations move people and the business forward.


Your integrity as a leader in Robust Conversations

Integrity is about being your word – if you said it, do it.  As leaders, maintaining your integrity – so that people trust your word – is vital for robust conversations to be effective.  If the truth is important, integrity is the declaration that you make.  Any gap between what you say and what you do is an act of treason that you commit against yourself, as well as your people.  The Clean-up Conversation is a great tool you can use, to close that gap.

It comprises the three steps necessary to restore your integrity if you made a promise that you didn’t deliver:

  1. Own up.

Own up and acknowledge responsibility for the broken agreement. Acknowledge the impact of it – both on yourself and the other person/people or the business.

  1. Clean up

Explain what you’re going to do to ‘make good’ –  are-promise, a negotiation or a new agreement. Make sure that your people accept your clean-up. Have the conversation with them to check that they have understood and accepted it.

  1. Move on.

Get agreement that they’re ready to move on. Ask them “Is that okay? Are we clear? Is this done?’  Stay in the conversation until it’s done. Robust conversation may come into the clean-up and restoring trust process – and remember, some people may be slower to move on.

The ‘little’ things that you do to restore integrity and trust, help your people to feel ‘safe’.  They reduce festering resentment and rebuild the relationship that was strained by your broken promise. They instill respect and help people move on.  They also reflect your humanity.

So, leaders, I would encourage you to learn to play in this space. Have robust conversations, any where, any time.  If you see it, call it early, to give people time to course-correct. Make mistakes, clean up and move on. It’s the most liberating thing you’ll do for yourself and your people.

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