Communication Directly

Wherever I go and who ever I’m with there seems to be this huge gap between how folks are “really” feeling and what they are able to discuss with each other. The conversations remain fairly superficial all the while tension mounting and the elephant in the room growing larger and larger.

There is good reason to be cautious. First of all we haven’t been taught how to have the most skillful conversations regarding tough subjects, emotions grab our attention and things start to go sideways. Most of us have had past experiences where direct communication resulted in a big mess and hurt feelings. So, we lumber along avoiding the big issues, perhaps complaining and most likely gossiping with others about our complaints. Perfectly, normal behavior when there is no outlet for us to say what’s really going on for us?


When I’m working with groups and as we begin to rebuild a sense of trust peoples confidence rises and inevitably frustrations begin to be vented indirectly. That’s ok. Folks need to let off some steam and they want it to be known that they have something that needs to be discussed. I really have to watch not getting caught in the trap of being that voice that says all the tough things. It’s more important that I track the process and pace folks through to a place of a more skillful conversation. So, folks can have their say with each other and build their capacity. This is so critically important.

Another reason for not brining issues up directly is that people don’t want to be unpopular with peers nor risk their jobs because they said something the boss didn’t like. Unfortunately, if leaders do not begin to create the conditions where real issues can be discussed folks will do behaviors that undermine the leader. It’s just the way it is!

So, how do we begin to build trust and invite direct communication? Having this conversation is a really good starting place actually. Some steps are outlined below….

  1. I recommend asking folks what their concerns are about speaking directly to issues? What are they afraid of? Getting fired, been shunned, being gossiped about?
  2. If you are a leader, you need to prep yourself for feedback coming your way if you invite folks to dialogue openly. Ask for feedback and…. let folks know how you’d like to receive it. Let people know you want to grow and become a better leader and you need their help.
  3. If you are afraid to bring up a topic as for permission and let folks now that you have concerns. Tell folks what you need and get their agreement.
  4. Once people have shared concerns, reassure them but creating some ground rules for the dialogue. What do folks need to be reassured of before during and after the discussion. How will the group ensure that the ground rules are upheld? Create some accountability.
  5. Now, identify a topic to discuss. Pick a topic and stick with it. We often meander off and forget what we were discussing. Perhaps write it down so folks can remember what the discussion is about.
  6. Slow down, encourage sharing, reassure folks, and step in where things escalate.
  7. Stop if toxins…blame, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling show up and revisit the graduals.
  8. Spend a fixed about of time on the topic and debrief by asking each person to share what they learned.

The more folks take a risk and share opening the more trust builds. The more frequently we do this without reprisal from each other or the leader the safer we feel.

If we want to create a culture of transparency and collaboration we must learn to talk about our issues more effectively. If not, we stay stuck in complaining more and feeling disempowered.

This week simply notice where you feel safe to address issues directly or not and the take the steps to build trust with whomever it is you want to have more transparency and trust with.

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