The Lost Art of Simply Conversing

Collaborative Conversation: Argue without being argumentative and disagree without being disagreeable. ~Doug Fisher

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

A common theme in my work these days is conflict resolution, which is frequently manifested because horizontal teams are struggling to work together. When people, or teams, lack the vertical hierarchy to make a decision or resolve an issue, they get stuck in an endless debate that only digs the hole of disagreement even deeper.

We’ve lost (or maybe never developed) the skills to have truly collaborative conversations. This means we need to speak-up, articulate our thinking (be bold), and do it in a way that is respectful and inclusive (delivered with grace).

Tips to Have a Collaborative Conversation

  • Establish the outcome for the conversation. What decision are you trying to make? What problem are you hoping to solve?
  • Use a cooperative not a competitive tone. This isn’t about establishing a winner and a loser. Author Amy Edmondson describes it as “People say what they think and they’re willing to be proven wrong.” That mindset will demand a more cooperative kind of tone.
  • Use phrases like:
    • Yes, and… (instead of: Yes, but…)
    • Can you tell me more about that?
    • My perspective is different…because…
    • The way I interpreted what you said was…please correct me if I’m wrong.
    • Would you consider…because…
    • What if we…
    • I think we could benefit if we…because…
  • Keep contributions short. Think of it as playing on a soccer team – quick passing back-and- forth between players who are committed to scoring in the same goal. 
  • Take the time to summarize agreements and disagreements periodically (not just at the close) to check for accuracy and depth of shared understanding.
  • Close out the conversation by synthesizing, categorizing and prioritizing. Don’t just walk away frustrated.

Hear Thinking

The point of a collaborative conversation is not to “make your case,” it’s to hear thinking. This requires three things of all parties involved. (1) Clearly state what you think and why so others can hear your thinking. (2) Ask clarifying questions with a cooperative tone so you can hear what others think. (3) Be patient and trust the process.

As Doug Fisher said, “Argue without being argumentative and disagree without being disagreeable.” Lead with bold grace.

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