Teach Your Institution to Speak
Developing a Bias Toward Dialogue
Dogs don’t talk, but they are great communicators.
We know what they want, mostly because they want the same things at the same times every day. They’ve trained us in exactly that way: Go outside. Eat. Rub my ears.
Dogs have conditioned us well.
In the same way our corporations and organizations and institutions train us to speak in certain ways. One company I worked for required a high level of sarcasm to get through the day—it was just the way employees interacted—all the way to the top dog. Another firm with a gossipy culture built impenetrable walls of mistrust and politics between colleagues, cliques and departments—walls that interfered with work and mission. One brave boss arose from the nattering class with a zag to the well-entrenched zig: when Employee A came with a screed about Employee B, this boss would immediately summon Employee B to the office and engage their complaints together. So before Employee A went off the rails about Employee B, they had to deal with the issue together, face-to-face. This became the beginning of a solution. People stopped gossiping to the boss, for starters. But they also found new ways to talk with each other. People picked up on the message that unhinged rants about colleagues will not do—at least with this boss.
You might think that the only way to get an institution to have open, revealing, useful forward-moving conversations would be from the top down. If the big boss does dialogue, then everyone else does—so goes the thinking. But in fact, culture does not always move from the top of the pyramid to the bottom. Sometimes it starts in the middle. Sometimes it starts at the bottom.
And that is good news for the 99 percent of us without a bully pulpit.
A person who demands more of conversation will butt up against others who are not so demanding, and sparks will fly. Or not. If you cannot find a place for forward-moving conversation in your organization, chances are good you will leave to find an organization where your voice will be heard.
But there are not a lot of good reasons to put up with less than genuine conversation.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston