Over the past 15 years, ExecuVision International has worked with nearly 200 companies. One component of every engagement has been around the topic of communication. In all that time, I have never met a single company or team that told me they had mastered the art. Every single person has acknowledged that the communication channel was not working.
Of course, I have also heard a lot of reasons for the lack of communication. Those reasons usually have to do with the other person’s inability to pay attention, or with the senior executive level’s inability to communicate openly. Somehow, it is always the other person who has some missing quality that, if it were present, would magically alter the state of the relationship.
The most important communication in any organization, though, is not the individual, one-on-one conversation. It is, rather, the conversation we have as a group. It is how we handle group conversations that truly define the culture of any organization.
Why is it that we cannot say publicly what everyone already knows? Why is it so hard to make transparent the truths that every single employee has divined for themselves? And how stupid do we have to make ourselves in the eyes of everyone around us before we face up to a few simple truths? Aren’t we supposed to be the leaders here?
Years ago, when I was still running a large company, I learned some Rules of Engagement for meetings that I have used ever since. Simple rules, understood by all, posted on the walls of our conference room.
1) No spectators allowed (posted outside the conference room)
If you have been invited to the meeting, it is because we believe that you have something to contribute. Our meetings are inspirational, not informational. We do not hold meetings to simply transfer information. We interpret the information provided prior to the meeting. You are here to participate. If you cannot do that, please don’t take up space in this room.
2) Silence is Agreement
If you don’t agree with what is being said, you have an obligation to either ask for clarification or share your point of view. You don’t get to passively ride the time out, and then later tell everyone, “I knew it wouldn’t work.” If you know it won’t work, you’d better tell us now.
3) Any issue that affects the group is a group issue
This is the most important rule of group dynamics. If the behavior of a team member is negatively affecting the group’s performance, we need to talk about that as a team, because we are all affected. Most negative behavior is unintentional. That doesn’t make it less negative, but it does mean that the perpetrator may not be aware of the consequences of that behavior. We have to make that apparent, and we have to make it public.
4) What’s said in the room stays in the room
The Las Vegas rule is critical. If we are to have an open dialogue, then safety is essential. We can only establish that safety when we know that every idea and possibility can be explored without fear of reprisal or ridicule. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to create that safety, in part, by enforcing this rule.
5) A voice is not a veto
Yes, everyone has a need to be heard. Being heard is not the same thing as always having your point of view accepted. Democracy revolves around an open dialogue, followed by a decision. The majority rules only after the minority has been heard. The minority accepts that we now have a decision and, as part of this team, I am obligated to support it. If I cannot support it, then I no longer belong on this team.
Following these five simple rules won’t guarantee the success of every organizational conversation. It will, however, significantly improve your odds for getting said what needs to be said. Wouldn’t that be an improvement?
All it requires is that you do not remain silent!