Just Talk to Each Other – Frequently and Directly

February 24, 2011

Originally Posted on Fast Company 2/21/2011

I spent a day last week discussing some controversial issues with a leadership team I’m a part of – issues we probably should have discussed a while ago, but hadn’t. To facilitate the day we brought in The Sanctuary Institute – a group that helps organizations relieve “organizational stress,” primarily through dialogue. As the day progressed it became clear that we had been avoiding quite a few conversations over the last year – more than we had likely anticipated. As a professional in the organizational consulting field, it felt odd to me, like we should have known better. We should have known that, over the last year, the crucial conversations weren’t happening as we were getting busier and busier. We should have known that some of the trouble we were having was avoidable – if we’d only gotten it out on the table earlier.

Then I had an insight I’ve had no fewer than 2 dozens time in my career: the problem wasn’t a knowledge problem. We all knew better. We’d helped clients with the same issues hundreds of times. Rather, we had an action problem. We didn’t do anything about the fact that we saw issues. We didn’t make it a priority to be on the same page and then regularly stay aligned. And because we didn’t make it a priority, week-in and week-out, the crucial conversations just got harder and harder to have.

As the session wrapped up a member of our team asked for advice on how to ensure these issues don’t pile up in the future. “There’s no silver bullet,” was the response from the facilitator, “just talk to each other, in regular meetings like this – supportively, frequently, and directly. If you do, the issues will take care of themselves.”

The importance of communication was advice we’d given a hundred times. Yet somehow we were like shoemakers walking around without shoes.

— Doug Sundheim is a leadership consultant, author, and speaker. He is currently working on a book on the topic of smart risk-taking