Communicating Well As a Group

by Siobhan Soraghan

The dialogue mindset

Our educational system, and in most cases our upbringing, tend to teach us the arts of discussion, but dialogue requires a different attitude. If discussion rather than dialogue is your default mode, you will need consciously to practise adopting the appropriate mental approaches to conversation if you want to become skilled at dialogue.

Suspend your need to be right

Notice if you have a fear of being wrong. If your self esteem is built primarily on the need to be right or on knowledge alone, then it can be a shaky platform when you find yourself in an arena that is new or unfamiliar. It will benefit you and your career to build a stronger sense of self that allows for other realities. These are not necessarily better, just different – being open to them allows your reality to grow and become richer. Otherwise, you are vulnerable to those who could pick on this sensitivity.

People will not think less of you if you are uncertain of your ground before raising an issue. People welcome genuine, truth-seeking questions for the good of all. This may require learning some new vocabulary and developing the habit of respectfully acknowledging and valuing the views you may wish to challenge.

Grow a thicker skin

Most of us dislike aggression and dominance by others in a group. However, sometimes the person we think is being aggressive is just being passionate and doesn’t intend aggression. We have to be careful to manage our judgement, as our reaction can then become a problem for the dynamic in the group.

Sometimes, however, the person is in fact being aggressive. Aggression is not necessarily anger. It can be a tone, a raised eyebrow, or any gesture that conveys the message ‘I’m OK, you’re not’. If this is upsetting you, then you may be buying-in to their judgement of you rather than holding on to your own self-acceptance. This may be showing you where you need to do some work on your own self esteem and remind yourself that you do not have to be defined by other’s attitudes to you or what you say.

Cope with ‘personality clashes’.

Management guru Peter Drucker believed that most clashes arise from the fact that one person does not know

  • What the other person does
  • How the other person does his or her work
  • What contribution the other person concentrates on
  • What results he or she expects.

Why? Because they do not ask and so are not being told. Good preparation for dialogue would include getting to know the people you’ll be doing it with and, where possible, exchanging the knowledge outlined above about each others’ roles, style and outputs. Go and meet them informally; have conversations about them and about you. Then, when you find yourself in a room with them doing dialogue, you’ll already feel comfortable with them. You may not like each other, but chances are you’ll respect each other.

The first secret of effectiveness is to understand the people with whom one works and on whom one depends, and to make use of their strengths, their ways of working and their values. For working relations are as much based on the person as they are based on the work.

The second thing to do to manage oneself and to become effective is to take responsibility for communications. After people have thought through what their strengths are, how they perform, what their values are, and especially what their contribution should be, they then have to ask: ‘Who needs to know this? On whom do I depend? And who depends on me?’ And then one goes and tells all those people.

Peter Drucker

Manage your mindset

Here are is a range of attributes and beliefs that will greatly help you if you wish to participate effectively in dialogue. We all have the option to choose these – or not.

  • Humility

I realise that mine is not the only way; there are many ways to skin a cat – and mine is not necessarily the best. I do not need to impress. I do not need to know more than others.

  • Courage

I risk sharing my intuitions and musings and half-baked thoughts that have not been worked out in fine precision. I risk challenging something that has been said that I don’t believe in even though someone very powerful has just said it. I have the courage to ask in the group how someone feels about the way their point has been dealt with when I notice they have not been heard by the group.

  • Curiosity

I practise being adept at asking who, why, what, how, where and when. I have a keen interest in how other people are making sense of their world and have arrived at their views.

  • Respect

I remember that everyone deserves respect and has intrinsic value regardless of how I feel around them. I have the intention to appreciate and recognise others.

  • A willingness to collaborate

I choose to move forward together rather than alone.

  • Empathy

I choose to have empathy for everyone rather than just those with whom I identify.

  • Optimism

I choose positivity rather than scepticism and cynicism.

  • Openness

I am willing to share my thought processes and surface my assumptions.

  • Acceptance

I accept that others have unconscious assumptions and mental maps; I also realise that they have different needs and priorities to mine.

  • Willingness to trust

I trust that people are doing the best they can; if I experience someone as ineffective/annoying/disruptive I remind myself that if they knew a better way to do things they’d be doing it. And that my perceptions of that person are mine and probably say something about me.

  • Lift up to a higher level

I am willing to see the bigger picture, one that encompasses us all and is more than what I can currently see.

Develop emotional maturity

Because dialogue stretches our brains and can challenge our fundamental grasp of reality, it can be scary and humbling. Some of our deepest beliefs about the world and ourselves can be challenged. This could make us defensive or withdrawn, neither of whicvh is conducive to dialogue. Furthermore, if we are action-oriented, we may find it extremely uncomfortable spending any length of time in a state of ambiguity, not-knowing and inaction. Those with maturity and resilience, however, are able to keep perspective, avoid taking things personally, recognise the value of the process and continue to contribute constructively. So what does emotional maturity consist of? Here are some of the key components for you to reflect upon and consider for your further development.

  • Self-awareness and acceptance

Awareness operates on two levels: being aware of what you are feeling and thinking when your buttons get pressed and also being aware of your personality and how you are perceived. No-one else sees the world quite as you do. It can extremely helpful to be aware of your own thinking preferences. A valuable tool for this is the Myers Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI). Kowing your Myers Briggs type helps you understand how you are different from people who have other preferences to yours. This can offer enlightening insights about how and why you participate the way you do in a group. Self-acceptance means recognising that you are human and not perfect – and that’s OK. There is no need to be either arrogant or apologetic. And it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself.

  • Other awareness and acceptance

This is about being aware of what others are feeling and also being aware of their behavioural preferences and style. Being healthily curious about and developing an understanding of others helps build trust. Of course, they are human and not perfect either – and that’s OK. It is important to be able to relate Adult-to-Adult rather than as a Parent (superior, responsible) or a Child (submissive, giving power and responsibility away).

Organisations are no longer built on force. They are increasingly built on trust. Trust does not mean that people like one another. It means that people can trust one another. And this presupposes that people understand one another.

Peter Drucker
  • Self-control

Maturity involves being able to acknowledge to oneself what one is feeling, discerning what its significance is and being able to control if and how one expresses it.

  • Emotional courage

This means having the courage to own your feelings and take responsibility for them rather than choosing to blame another. It also means having the nerve to speak up when you have a valuable contribution to make, even if it goes against the prevailing norm in the group. In other words, you don’t allow your desire for group harmony and/or fear of conflict to hinder the sharing of potentially useful but possibly unwelcome or disruptive input.