“Making things discussable”. This was the answer we got from a truly inspiring global CEO when asked what he thought had enabled him to navigate successfully through many turbulent moments in time, during his tenure at LEGO.
Brilliant! Just imagine how much brain capacity and creativity you allow for when you make something OK to discuss. If we want to find solutions to complex issues and deal effectively with ambiguity and constant change that for many of us are everyday reality, we have to allow for things to be discussable.
“But – how did you do that?”
A very good follow-up question, not so easy to answer. Some suggested ingredients were humility and emotional bonding.
My answer is: He used a collaborative approach to communication.
Effective leadership and collaboration thrive on communication, and you’d think that all communication is collaboration-oriented – but no. The conventional belief we hold that leaders must know best and have all the answers limits the potential for growth-oriented, meaningful conversations – and hampers overall performance.
Collaborative communication goes beyond information exchange and attempts to influence others. It builds trust, and fosters collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving (in her book “Conversational Intelligence”, Judith E. Glaser wrote about what she referred to as “Level 3 conversations” and the wealth of neuro scientific studies explaining its effectiveness).
Unfortunately, collaborative conversations are not commonly practiced in business settings, where transactional exchanges and persuasion dominate.
If you need your organization to be innovative and creative to lead the game, you must foster a culture that encourages and supports this kind of dialogue and makes things discussable – even in challenging situations.
In my three decades of experience, the single most powerful way to elevate your communication – and culture – to the collaborative performance level we’re talking about here, is to lead conversations in an open, uninhibited, possibility-oriented space. This is a game changer. It is a simple idea and highly effectful, but it is not a quick fix. It requires time, skill, willingness, and probably a bit of courage, too. I will talk about this in a different article.
However, you can easily and immediately get going in the right direction by learning and applying a few simple yet effectful communication tools. I’ve picked these three to inspire and propel you on your path:
1. Frame the conversation for open discussion
Framing is an awesome communication tool yet mainly overlooked. Your magic ingredient. With good framing you can align expectations, provide clarity, set up constructive boundaries, and prime for useful emotional responses. To make things discussable, a useful frame is one that encourages new ideas, different viewpoints, dismantles the need to be right, and builds trust. By sharing something personal and being open about uncertainties, you create an environment of open sharing and vulnerability. Authenticity and pure intentions promote a genuine connection that rapidly increases trust.
My first personal experience with this was when I sat down with my boss to have the “pay raise dialogue” (that rarely was a dialogue). He simply said, “You know, I value you and your work highly and I’m truly sorry I can’t reward you with a raise. This year, my hands are tied and frankly, I’m a bit worried you’ll be considering your options. But I know you’re motivated by other things as well, and we do have a range of things we can discuss. What does a great year in this department look like, for you? Let’s start with that.”
This frame helped create what stands out as one of the best ever “pay raise dialogues” for me despite the 0%: he succeeded in outframing the raise, re-framing for opportunity, and showing openness transparency which promoted my trust in him and our conversation.
2. Explain your intentions, your why and your agenda
Building trust is facilitated by transparently sharing intentions and agendas. Articulating what you hope to achieve in a meeting or situation eliminates the need for others to guess your motives. You help their brains and systems to relax and be open for dialogue. Obviously, sharing and explaining also greatly facilitate your team members’ understanding of what’s going, who you are, and what you’re thinking and feeling – it increases the quality of the information you’re all working with (consciously or not).
Transparent communication and shared agendas foster trust on a deeper, human level.
You can share your “Why” when you start the conversation (great framing!), and every time you feel it will add to the quality of your discussions.
• “The reason I asked for this analysis is – “
• “At this meeting, I hope we can reach a shared ambition about – “
• “I’m asking more specific questions about the German market because – “
3. Feel curious – ask explorative questions
Leaders often struggle with the temptation to provide clever answers, holding on to the illusion of control (and impatience, too). But we all know that nobody can predict the future, and nobody can know everything – certainly in today’s complex and fast-moving world. When you share your uncertainties, ask questions because you simply don’t know, and show a willingness to listen for new input, you become a role model – and you start creating a culture where others feel at ease with the unknown and the constant change.
This is a mindset shift, and for some, even a shift in identity. For most leaders I work with, a real challenge. But you need a collaborative mindset for this level of performance to be possible for your teams.
Here’s a shortcut to get you started:
Make it a habit to ask open-ended, explorative questions to which you do not have the (full) answer – like e.g.,
• “What influenced your thinking in that situation?”
• “In the best of all worlds, what is our desired outcome?”
• “What is your thinking behind this idea?”
• “How does this possibility make you feel?”
• “What can you share that will help me understand your perspective?”
(Note: Beware of your tone of voice. If you are not truly interested in listening to the answer, the other person will know…)
Explorative questions empower your team members to share insights and contribute their unique perspectives. They spark discovery, encourage active listening, and lead to new shared insights and innovative solutions. Asking explorative questions supports a culture of learning, collaboration, and trust. Valuing everyone’s ideas taps into diverse knowledge and improves decision-making and problem-solving outcomes.
Collaborative communication requires new skills and an updated mindset, such as being comfortable with not knowing or being wrong; genuinely curious about others’ perspectives; truly listening to understand; and setting aside personal agendas to prioritize connection. Fundamentally, it is a culture transformation.
And it is well worth the effort. With collaborative communication, all competences, skills, and experiences come together. Trust is strengthened; solutions become more robust and effective; implementation smoother and faster; innovation, collaboration and co-creation will flourish.
Collaborative communication leads you to a whole new range of possibility for team and organizational performance.