Messy Conversations

I have a confession to make. I enjoy “messy” conversations. Over the years, I’ve discovered that some topics fail to be explored deeply enough because the participants either don’t feel safe expressing their opinions or the meeting structure and facilitation process aren’t conducive to this type of discussion.

A messy conversation involves frank (and sometimes heated) dialogue, requires participation from all attendees and at the end, those involved make significant progress as a team in moving an initiative forward or making a cultural change. The format must allow for a deep dialogue on the specific topic while being careful that the conversation does not veer off track. For example, if you are seeking agreement on a concept, you’ll want to make sure that the attendees refrain from diving deep on specific tactics. You may also have to push the participants to go deeper in discussion to ensure you are thoroughly exploring the concepts.

The messy conversation approach should be used sparingly because they are not effective for the majority of meetings. Overuse will result in the inability to productively manage meetings. For example, a typical staff meeting focused on updates, and requiring decisions where consensus can be easily achieved is not the place for messy conversations. I find myself encouraging messy conversations when the topic is ambiguous and/or sensitive and needs to be thoroughly vetted.

Messy conversations can’t take place without complete trust. Ensure that the team has a safe environment, agree that the conversation stays in the room and reinforce that commitment when someone slips. I like to touch base with individuals after a messy conversation, thanking those who have been bold enough to raise a sensitive topic and encouraging others who demonstrated progression in their thinking.

Why not give a ‘messy conversation’ a try and see if it doesn’t lead to some deeper consensus and alignment on your team.

Speak loudly, step boldly!