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Skilful Dialogue

Leadership and dialogue consultant, Sarah Rozenthuler, explains the power of effective communication and shares helpful strategies to prepare for important conversations in the workplace.

Sarah Rozenthuler In early November, I co-presented a new two-day dialogue and leadership programme at St Ethelburga’s Centre in London, entitled ‘Leading with Systemic Dialogue’, with further events happening early next year.

The programme invited leaders and change agents to discover the power of open dialogue and co-creative collaboration for empowering sustainable change in organisations.

A key part of the training was showing how to prepare for important conversations in the workplace.

Learning how to have better dialogue builds more robust relationships. To produce quality goods and services, we need the creative tension of different points of view. The art is to find a way to mine the creativity without triggering reactivity. Each one of us is unique. We all hold a piece of the puzzle. The only way to complete the jigsaw and co-create a better future is to find a way to talk and think together. Poor communication and ‘silo working’ breeds rivalry, lack of trust and unresolved conflicts, undermining collective performance and costing millions of pounds daily.

In the workplace, there are usually power differentials at play. “Speaking truth to power” – such as giving your boss some feedback or speaking out to more senior colleagues – is a challenge many of us find difficult. We need to find more productive ways to talk. When even one of us expands our capacity to be both courageous and receptive, the greater whole benefits too.

Preparation is crucial

When preparing for a critical conversation, three things in particular can help:

1. Pick your moment

Decide on a good time to talk. When will the other person be most receptive? Sometimes it might be wise to send an email in advance to say you want to discuss something. This gives the other person time to gather their thoughts and lowers the risk of a reaction. Think through situations to avoid, such as having a difficult conversation in an open-plan office or first thing on a Monday morning. Select a time/place when you and the other person will give each other your fullest attention.

2. Find your opening

Think through the first thing you’ll say. Be careful not to do too much “easing in” as this will make the other person nervous. Be as direct as you can while being sensitive. Practise saying the words out loud so you feel as comfortable as you can before you say them for real.

3. Have a “drop line”

When I was a street circus performer, it was important to know what to say if I dropped a juggling ball. Having a “drop line” worked out in advance, helps to reduce anxiety about what would happen if everything starts to go wrong. In an important conversation, think through the worst case scenario and decide how you’d handle this. You could suggest taking a break – it’s better to take time out than have an important conversation derail.

While there are no guarantees a conversation will proceed along the lines you’ve prepared, you‘ll maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome by thinking through what you’ll say – and how you’ll say it.

A conversation is not just an exchange of words. Talking together does something. It’s an action. It carries power. It affects material reality. The more intentional we are in our communication, the more likely our co-creations will delight rather than disappoint us.

In my work with numerous global organisations helping them create better conversations, I’ve seen time and time again how simple preparation leads to a profound impact on people’s careers and work relationships.

The numerous business benefits of effective communication include:

  • Improved performance through higher level collaboration and trust
  • Increased profitability, greater employee engagement and better customer satisfaction
  • Enhanced wellbeing and motivation amongst staff and other stakeholders

When we change the dynamics of our conversations, the rules of engagement and the quality of listening, we widen the possibilities for real lasting change.

Download a free copy of her new e-book Leading Systemic Dialogue

Sarah Rozenthuler

Sarah Rozenthuler is a leading international figure in the field of multi-stakeholder dialogue. An author, chartered psychologist and leadership consultant, she co-presents the innovative skill-building programme Leading Systemic Dialogue: Unlocking Collective Intelligence at St Ethelburga’s Centre (City of London), 22-23 March, sharing tools to co-create lasting transformative change in organizations.


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