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Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. C.S. Lewis
Bringing Heart and Voice to Leadership success

Open and honest conversations

Open and honest conversations

Is your team having open and honest conversations about what really matters?

The all-hands team meeting has gone relatively well, all things considered.

The technology worked without too much trauma so everyone around the world was able to take part. We got through a bit more of the agenda than usual and there was a nice bit of banter…it is a nice group.  And if we achieve even half of the actions that have been discussed and agreed to, we’ll be on track to achieve our KPIs.

Yet, as the team’s Leader, there is a niggling doubt. We were discussing important issues for sure but was there an unspoken duplicity to avoid talking about the really tough issues? Were we so busy being team spirited and ‘nice’ to each other that we held back from saying what we really think? Are we lacking the grit in the dialogue needed to create the pearls?


Having the right conversations about the real issues

As the old command-and-control environment has become eclipsed by changes that promote cross-functional teamwork, matrix management and global employee engagement, dictating a plan and issuing orders has given way to a more collaborative setting that requires more interaction, more dialogue. But are people still shying away from having the conversations that result in truly game-changing outcomes?

And for those of you who told me how much you chuckled at the Dilbert cartoon in our previous article 'Engaging an empowered team', here's another light-hearted look at this particular issue: 

Aristotle defined the roots of all language to be:

Logos: logic, thought and learning

Ethos: values, meaning and hope

Pathos:  heart, compassion and empathy

These ‘roots’ will have been evident in any of your most recent team meetings. The key question is the extent to which these distinct but harmonised elements are reflected in your leadership of such meetings and, specifically, whether the approach taken ensured that the team was having the right discussions, at the right time and in the right spirit about the right issues.

Language is not only expressed in the articulation that is prompted by discussion but also in the implied messages that are present in everything that is said (and not said), in the tone and inflection of voice, and in the body language of participants.  

So, how skilful are you are at reaching beyond the rational dialogue that is driving discussions to read the emotional dialogue that is driving results?

Top Tips

 Listen for the silence

Last year, we were asked to put forward a proposal to undertake an employee engagement Pulse Check within a regional Development business for a leading global LifeSciences organisation.

We had a long-standing relationship with this client and liked to consider ourselves to be a trusted partner. I perceived that we had a full and thorough understanding of their needs and was excited to put forward an innovative programme to address these.

Our sponsors were happy with our proposals and we moved forward to securing final approval from the organisation’s wider leadership team. The presentation of our programme went smoothly and our proposals were being met with endorsement from the functional leaders around the table.

As I was preparing to wrap-up, the CEO leant forward and reached out to a team member who had remained quiet and more reflective throughout the meeting to ask for his view.  It then became clear that he had major reservations about the approach and timing being proposed due to wider global sensitivities, and the project shuddered to a halt.

Not a great result for Mansfield Buchanan in the short-term but the right outcome for my client and an inspiring example of a Leader who had heard the silence and a sharp reminder to me of the need to do the same.

 Make it safe to talk about the tough issues 

Reverting to our earlier ‘classical Greek’ theme for a moment, one of the single biggest inhibitors to people having open and honest conversations is a fear that, like Pandora, once the lid has been lifted, all manner of evil cascades forth.

‘Tough’ discussions are often relegated to Team Off-Site events where it is hoped that, with nice surroundings, good food and assertive facilitation, a successful discussion will ensue without too much personal collateral damage.

Yet the high performance teams we meet do it differently.

They recognise that the discussions that are the toughest are those which relate to issues that strike at the heart of our own vulnerabilities.  They understand that our default is to shy away from discussions that put our job, our behaviours and our value under scrutiny.

And these teams respond to this very human hurdle by putting VALUE at the core of the approach that they take:

Customer Value: KPIs are ruthlessly aligned to customer need and adding value

Team Values: the shared ethos within the team infuses attitudes and behaviours

Personal Value: individual value is recognised, applauded and optimised.

By placing the emphasis on value, they neatly reframe the issues and side-step the tension that arises between business and personal priorities.

Could this be the secret to creating the trust and focus required to ensure that your team brings transparency to the really important issues and has the open and honest conversations required to transform achieving the results that are within your grasp? We believe so.

Next steps…

What works for you?

Use your next team meeting to do things differently. Actively observe the emotional dynamic. What is not being said? What underlying messages are being conveyed by people’s body language? What underlying message is being conveyed by your body language?

Read ‘Crucial Conversations’

By: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron Mcmillan and Al Switzler

Transform how you communicate when the stakes are high by reading this amazing book.

It gives practical ways to use the energy of anger and hurt to have the powerful dialogue that makes it safe to talk about almost anything.

It helps Leaders be persuasive, not abrasive and the creative ideas put forward by the authors resonate with challenges that we face in all aspects of our lives.


Sign up to our next eMasterclass

‘The MIGHTY Power of Small’

In the 3rd and final webinar in our series of eMasterclasses we probe how the vocabulary associated with today’s Language of Leadership has had to adapt with the potential for the mightiest impact to arise from the smallest words.

For more information on our current series of eMasterclasses, please click here.

To register for this complimentary, succinct 45-minute webinar, use the icon below: 

Thurs February 5th, 2015

1300 GMT : 0800 EST : 2200 JPN

The MIGHTY power of small



Please note: This complimentary eMasterclass is a peer forum for Senior LifeSciences Leaders only and does, therefore, have restrictions associated with it. In the event that this is not the right forum for you, there are many other ways in which we can help you to be a more effective Leader. So, please do get in touch with us and we will explore alternative options with you that may serve you better.


This article has been written by:

Annalise Cowley, Director of Mansfield Buchanan

An experienced Consultant and certified Coach, Annalise works exclusively with LifeSciences clients worldwide to help Leaders and their teams to use insight into what people need and value to deliver the business results that matter.


MB Leadership is a specialist division of Mansfield Buchanan.
We enable Leaders and their teams to deliver insight-driven success within the LifeSciences sector.

Corby Enterprise Centre, Northamptonshire, NN17 5EU, UK

t: +44 (0) 1536 560358


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