Conversations can create climate shifts

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During team coaching sessions and leadership development workshops I often get a close-up look at the dynamics of the interactions and conversations in a team.

Sometimes the team is a shining example of respectful, appreciative connections and collaborative conversations that create learning, new solutions, and focused action. Just recently I was fortunate to work with a team who exemplified this dynamic.

Too often, though, a leadership team is caught in a negative, down-ward spiraling climate – a climate that also manifests in their interactions and conversations. When this is the climate, conversations are problem-focused and fault-focused. There is a lot of “competitive” conversation plays – pokes, interruptions, grandstanding and power plays which spirals into demeaning, blaming and complaining.

This conversation dynamic creates some obvious challenges.

The negative tone of the conversations starts to create a negative climate, affecting relationships and undermining trust. Because conversations have become unpleasant, leaders avoid conversations – relying on email, for example – when sharing information or making inquiries. This creates even more problems – misunderstandings, irritations, etc. All in all, it starts to hurt the effectiveness of the team which creates obvious ramification further down the line.

Shifting the frame of their conversations away from this negativity towards a strength-focused frame can have an immediate positive effect on the interaction dynamics in a team caught in such a downward spiraling dynamic. The shift is simple: Engage the leaders in personal, strength-focused conversations with one another where they listen and learn how their colleagues see themselves as strong, what they find energizing, and what they feel good about contributing to the team and the organization. And then extend the frame to include conversations about what they see as strong in each other.

Time and again I’ve noticed the positive impact of shifting the frame towards a strength-focused conversation: A shift in energy, renewed appreciation for one another, a deeper understanding of the variety of strengths available in the group – and most importantly, an openness to engage in a process to help the team become more effective.

Of course all of the problems have not been solved. The hard work of dealing with them still lies ahead. But enough of a shift in the level of connecting and relating will have happened that the old patterns have been broken. The focus on collective strengths in the group generates a sense of hope and group efficacy. With a more positive emotional state and a more positive climate, things can now move forward more constructively.

Moreover: Leaders are typically pleasantly surprised not only with the energy unleashed by these conversations, but also by the fact that it does NOT take a long time to get into these conversation, nor does it need to be a long and extensive conversation to start getting real and useful pictures of a conversation partner’s strengths. So they typically walk away with a new conversation they feel would be valuable to have with their colleagues – individually and in a team context.

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