Seven Principles for Courageous Conversations

It’s an honor to hold the space for leaders to speak their truth in times of disagreement or conflict.  What seems to embolden and inspire courageous conversations is a shared higher purpose and vision for the work of the team.    Successful teams know that  without the courageous conversation their work will stall and stutter and lack authenticity.  They know they must traverse the choppy waters before they can get to the smooth sailing.
In the past couple of months I have facilitated courageous conversations with leadership teams.  And this is what I have learned as guidelines for having conversations that successfully move the team to solutions:

  1. Build trust by reaffirming common purpose.  What brings you to the conversation?  What do you care about in this conversation?
  2. Name the conversation, before you begin.  Agree on the topic of the conversation.  What is it we are speaking about?  Avoid euphemisms, jargon, or code words.  Give the conversation a direct name.  Begin with the phrase, “This is a conversation about….”
  3. Agree on norms or rules for the conversation. How will you be with one another in the conversation?  This usually involves statements about confidentiality.  It’s about owning one’s experience and using ”I statements” rather than being tempted to blame and point the finger.  This involves talking about civility and respect and how you as a group can protect these essential qualities.
  4. Write out your agreements for how you will be with one another so that everyone can see them and contribute to them.
  5. Allow everyone equal time to speak.  Sometimes not everyone will feel comfortable speaking.  Make sure even if people choose not to speak, they still have time for their voices to be heard.
  6. Leave silence in between statements.  There is such a temptation to fill the silence.  Yet this silence can serve as buffer and time to reflect so that people can reconnect to what they care about and stay present in the conversation.
  7. Check in periodically and invite people to take three deep breaths before continuing.  Again, it’s useful to pause and help people reassure the part of them that feels threatened so that they can access higher order thinking and problem solving.