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We all Crave Dialogue-Here’s How to Achieve It

This election is over. Throughout the trials and tribulations we continually heard, “Why can’t we talk to each other rather than at each other?

We all crave dialogue. We resist monologue. Let me rephrase that – we resist the monologues of others but love the sound of our own voices.

It’s easier to see the lack of dialogue in the extreme rhetoric of what’s happening politically. It’s more difficult to see that we all engage in some version of this in our own lives.

Because my work is focused on Employee Engagement, I see it most clearly in the work environment. It doesn’t matter whether it’s leaders or front-line workers, we are making more declarative statements than we are asking questions.

The formula for dialogue is simple:

Questions = dialogue
Statements = monologue

In workplace situations, there are great questions to ask that can stimulate some eye-opening dialogue:

  • At staff meetings:  What would you like to accomplish this week, team?”
  • Walk me through this. Why do you think this is the best approach to take?
  • How can we make this work better?

These questions have something in common: they can’t be answered “yes” or “no” and so open up a dialogue.

A monologue can feel like an assault. A dialogue is an invitation to participate.

If you’re bone-tired of the divisiveness we’re being subjected to, why not take on the task of improving your corner of the world?  Encourage dialogue at work.  Heck! Why not try it at home, as well?

Like the old joke goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time.”

How do you get people to talk with each other? One question at a time.

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How NOT to Influence Others

Undeniably, the fastest way to decrease your influence with anyone is to give unsolicited advice. Whether or not you are in a leadership role, using questions, not directions are the better way to influence.  In fact, give it a try at home first. If you apply the process outlined below, your family will send me thank you notes.

Have you ever had this happen? You’ve given specific and clear directions to someone about how to perform a task. You’re pleased when that person even acknowledges your suggestions. Yet, when the task is completed, you discover it’s been done in a completely different way!

Margaret J. Wheatley, a writer and management consultant who specializes in Organizational Development has identified the three things others do with your ideas:

1. Ignore
2. Change
3. Criticize (this is the one that creates the most mischief)

Given this reality, why are you wasting your breath? The best quote about this type of situation came from one of my mentors, Esther Hicks who said,

“An answer to a question no one asked you is a wasted answer.”

2015 May 29 An answer to a question no one asked is copyThink about that. There you are sprinkling your fairy dust of “incredibly good ideas” over others. Are they paying any attention whatsoever? If they seem to be listening at all, it’s probably because they are formulating all the reasons why your idea won’t work. They may even be planning how they’re going to entertain co-workers later with, “You won’t believe what he suggested I do!”

If you doubt this, try an experiment–the next time you’re gifting someone with your good ideas about what they should do, pay very close attention to that person’s face. They may be looking right at you but are they listening? Better still, follow up to see whether they implemented your idea. You will likely find that they did one of the three things Wheatley has identified.

Here is the process for influencing:  instead of telling another how to perform a task, outline the end result you are expecting. Then ask, “What are some ways to get this done?”

Let’s say you need a co-worker to produce a report that lies within his/her area of responsibility. You’re not the boss but you need the report.  You say, “I need a report on ______________ by next Friday.  Can you walk me through some ways to make sure that happens?”

Or you need something from your boss and you know she doesn’t like “upward delegation.” Yet, she’s the only one who can provide what you need. You might say, “In order to finish X project, I need the following information _____________. Can you help me figure out a few ways to get it?”

Insider Tip #1:  (hold onto your hat!) People LOVE to be asked for their advice. That’s why we give it out for free–there are not nearly enough people asking us for it!

Insider Tip #2: Never ask for “the best solution” or “the solution” as if there is only one.When they think there is only one correct answer, people freeze; their minds problem-solve more effectively if asked for potential solutions (plural).