Leaders, do you understand the impact of your conversation style on your team?


In today’s connected world, we are continuously witnessing or being directly part of conversations where there are two positions/ideas defended. Usually it is one side that supports “A” as the good option and the other that supports “B”.

These conversations become quickly polarising and even though A and B have a lot in common, what the 2 parts focus is on the differences and for the first section it would be something like “B includes X that is terrible because blah blah blah” and on the other hand somebody will respond “Well, A also says Y hence it is wrong because blah blah blah”.

If you are a twitter user you will know exactly what i’m talking about, if you’re not I’m sure you can relate it to live conversations you have had in your life.

One thing that these conversations have in common is that they never bring anybody to any sort of agreement. Focussing on what’s wrong in somebody’s idea is the easiest way of making an enemy. All we hear is “you’re wrong” and as humans that carry an ego, this is the worst way of starting a conversation.

Relationships deteriorate.

Twitter and social media can be turned off, conversations muted at cetera so we have a safe place to go when something becomes too much for us.

A place we cannot escape as easily as that is our workplace.

Leaders have a big role to play in creating an environment where polarising conversations don’t happen and a search for the beauty in our interlocutor’s ideas is part of how we communicate.

My experience with leadership on this context is quite disappointing. A lot of leaders I have worked with consider being right the most important thing and will do anything it takes to make sure nobody proves them wrong. I can’t start to say how bad this is for the people that work with this type of leaders. Beyond not being listened to as soon as the leader has something to object, people quickly decide not to talk about what they believe in. This obviously causes the loss of perspective coming from these people and quickly the team becomes an impersonation of the leader and his ideas, some supporters (we won’t dwell on the reasons for support here) some compliant silent members and the ones that comply but deep inside would want to tear their skin off every time the leader talks.

A leader of this type will never create an environment that foster innovation and free thinking and the team will be as good as the leader, no more, no less. People won’t feel motivated to follow a purpose because it is not their purpose, it’s their leader’s and the team will be at best unhappy.

Some leaders consider this simply a side effect of the fact that they are more experienced, hence more likely to be right and don’t see the impact on their people. Furthermore, when polarising conversations happen within the members of their teams they often use the same approach, choose one side and demolish the other, nothing better if you not only want to diminish the innovative power of your team but you also want to ruin the relationships between the people that work in your team.

And many leaders are really good at it.

Is creating good relationships something as important as delivering the next piece of work in time? Less important, equally important, more important?

To finish I want to ask leaders two potentially uncomfortable questions.

Do you understand the impact of your conversation style on the relationships you have with your team?

What do you do to improve the relationship between you and your people?



4 thoughts on “Leaders, do you understand the impact of your conversation style on your team?

  1. Ray Dalio talks about this topic in his great book Principles. Ray encourages what h calls “thoughtful disagreement” where he seeks smart , informed people that disagree with his viewpoint to test his hypothesis. He points out that as a leader you have to stay open minded as you are seeking to find out what is true rather than trying to prove you are right. In these discussions he suggests that the people whose opinions change during the conversations are the real winners as they have learned something.

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