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Fostering a dialogue

When going through our change process, it’s important that we generate conversation, rather than just informing people of decisions already made. Far too often we see what one could call a “launch and leave”, “bless and delegate” or “hit-and-run” approach to change. Engaging staff and leaders in a dialogue greatly increases the chances of a successful outcome that will stick in the long run.

The goal is to create space for this dialogue to support the development of new mindsets and behaviours and to help people through the emotional states they will live as part of the change.

Different emotional states during change are a natural part of being human. We don’t have to fix people’s emotions (and shouldn’t attempt to). It is most helpful, however, to allow people to share them and for us to listen to them. Knowing about people’s emotional state will help us determine where they are at throughout the change effort (see Change Curve, Bridges and Kubler-Ross for more information). Engagement and dialogue is crucial when developing our strategy and when rolling out our change activities. Triggering an exchange allows people to better understand and internalize the implications that the change will have for them.

How can we foster healthy dialogue?

To get the best results out of dialogue, we can focus on maximizing opportunities for fruitful conversations to occur, both structured and spontaneous. We should be trying to give people as many opportunities as possible to have conversations about the change. Let’s face it: they will talk about it anyway – we might as well provide some guidance and context!

The book Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected lists a number of principles we can use to foster healthy dialogue, including:

  • Considering discussion of people’s thoughts and feelings as an important part of the process
  • Clarifying the meaning of words and concepts
  • Providing context others need so they can understand what we are sharing
  • Identifying our false assumptions
  • Using stories and analogies to help ideas come to life

With these principles in mind, it is important that we set up mechanisms for people to share feedback, appreciation (which also helps create trust), raise concerns and ask questions throughout the process. This will make it easier to get them to own the change.

It’s okay for people to vent. When this happens, we can allow it for a certain time (it can be healthy to do this) and then steer the conversation towards finding solutions. In emotionally-charged discussions it can be beneficial to have a neutral facilitator. This is likely to help people to move through the change and will engage them in being part of the solution. As noted before, most times the answer is in the room. Another benefit is that we can then follow what emerges from these exchanges to see if there is new information that could inform the direction of the change, and adjust our approach accordingly.

Next steps

With our understanding of the importance of trust and dialogue, we can begin to think more about the change itself and start to develop our strategy and plan.

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