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Courageous Conversations

Courageous Conversations can be helpful for leaders to get insight into what their team/organisation thinks or feels. Read this article to learn more.
Difficult conversations, conflict and quarrel - contemporary abstract art.

In the last step you listened to my podcast on Courageous Conversations, where I explained the concept. The tool, or variations of it, can be very helpful for leaders to get real insight into what their team/organisation thinks or feels.

At Unilever we held the sessions in groups of ten, as mentioned, and then the group would look at the responses given to the various ‘provocative’ questions, and discuss together. When I used the tool at British Council I adapted it for a group of almost 200 people. Individuals could input to the various laptops around the room, but because of the high volume of responses we had a core team pulling out themes quickly as the responses came in. Then, after a short break, we could review the top themes coming out and discuss in plenary, with the whole group together in the room. This was an excellent way for me to understand the sentiment from finance colleagues around the world, and I also got the feedback that they had never been asked for their input before and were very happy to be included in this way.

Even if you don’t have the technology or budget for this specific tool, and it is not hugely expensive, you can take the principles and find a way of getting people’s confidential inputs and then discussing them in a group. This confidential yet inclusive approach is one that can promote trust in the leader, as well as the leader learning new and relevant insights on various topics, particularly those around inclusion, wellbeing and perception of management and leadership.

The conversations are called ‘courageous’ to acknowledge that it still takes guts to speak out about things in a context where you might be afraid of negative repercussions. It’s also in fact courageous of the leader to open themselves up to hear feedback which might not be complimentary. And the beauty of this approach, as opposed for instance to seeking 360 degree feedback or filling out an anonymous survey is that there is a discussion. Discussion builds on individual feedback, and even greater insights can be gained through it. Also there tends to be greater honesty as you avoid the risk of ‘keyboard warriors’ (i.e. those who attack and criticise behind the safety of their keyboard).

In summary, I would really encourage you to consider in which way you might hold courageous conversations going forwards. They really are a win-win for today’s leader. If you come from a more traditional profession, this may seem daunting. I know from speaking at a recent global accountants’ conference that, whilst people will acknowledge that the behavioural side of learning is what will help their career progression the most, accountants for example won’t engage as much as they will in technical topics. On this occasion, although the session got great feedback, we quickly sped on to the next agenda item where participants/organisers felt in their comfort zone, and missed a potential opportunity to explore further and really make a difference.

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