“The quality of our conversations matter. Great achievements only come after great conversations.”
—John O’Leary, communications advocate
Someone I respect and admire sent me a TEDx talk and told me it was worth my time to watch it. She wasn’t wrong. John O’Leary’s talk is a great reminder of the power our words can have, either spoken or not. His talk outlines the massive connection between conversations and the success (or failure) of your endeavours.
According to John, the quality of conversations influences the quality of our decisions which dictates the quality of our outcomes.
While this is not entirely new information to anyone, he shares examples of very high profile incidents in which conversations lacked the quality they needed to ensure good decisions were made. So why are we not constantly engaged in quality conversations in which people speak their mind?
John speaks about three myths that keep people silent when they are asked to ‘share their thoughts’ to new ideas in meetings:
Saying “I really want to know what you think” is not enough to overcome the barriers that many people have when it comes to sharing their thoughts in a conversation so John offers up these techniques to change the context of a conversation:
Independent deliberation. (Asking people to come prepared with their ideas written down and a rationale for them). Result: Either a natural consensus which builds confidence that the direction to be taken is a good one, or people will bring very different ideas to the table – offering exciting opportunities for exploration and change.
Devils Advocate/Red Team. The leader assigns a group to poke holes in an idea. The task is to see all the failings and lay them out. O’Leary says that by giving people permission to do the things we wouldn’t typically expect from a group discussion, you are testing the strength of the idea before launching it ‘live’. (Think “putting on the black hat” aka Edward DeBono’s Thinking Hats).
“Conversation is used to draw out the pitfalls but conversation can also be used to inspire, and to engage and to bring people into an ambitious endeavour.” As I watched John’s video I thought how effective it would be to “assign” this TED talk to a group or team before a meeting in which big decisions needed to be made. How empowering it would be for a team to know their leader valued and appreciated their voice and how the only thing that was important was everyone’s ability to engage in the conversation.
While we are not launching rockets or starting wars as teachers, we are dealing with educating children which is certainly worth having a conversation about. What is the quality of your meeting conversations? Are you setting up yourselves, your school, and most importantly, your students, for quality outcomes? What do you need to change in the way you facilitate meetings in order to be the best team of teachers you can be?
If I could add anything to John’s talk, it would be to conclude with this image from Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid: