Holding Values-Focused Conversations During the Information Apocalypse
We are living through a tumultuous time. Leaders of organizations are being forced to grapple with large, thorny issues inside their own four walls because there is no other safe space for their people to have these conversations. Furthermore, while we have never had more “information” at our fingertips, its quality has steadily declined, resulting in ill-informed conversations based primarily on belief and opinion. This is an unfortunate reflection upon our culture, and it leaves leaders struggling with how to have critical conversations.
The Information Apocalypse and Its Impact on Business Leaders
Televised news has mostly devolved into “infotainment” with the anchors’ emotions bleeding through to infect you like a virus. Most traditional print media have had their newsrooms gutted so that everything in your “feed” is either something regurgitated from somewhere else, a “Top 10” list full of bubbly froth, or some random local video trying to pass for “news.” Social media is a blasted hellscape of misinformation and posturing where everyone is either more concerned with being “right” or being an “influencer.” And, somewhere along the way, our entire society forgot how to have meaningful, civil conversations.
I could pull on any one of these threads and unravel a thousand more strings, but what I see every day is the impact that our current environment is having upon leaders of organizations. These individuals are trying to move their entities forward during a time of extreme economic uncertainty. They’re also charged with providing a safe employee environment and simultaneously managing the fallout from our ongoing information apocalypse.
Every day your employees are bringing their biases, opinions, beliefs, and half-cooked theories about the world through your doors. Sometimes this results in confrontational conversations with coworkers. Other times, undesirable behaviors appear. Regardless of how these issues manifest, organizational leaders are now called upon to be the grownups in the room. And, while every good leader is equipped to have critical conversations about performance, metrics, etc., many of the issues you’re now forced to confront leave you feeling unsettled. Fortunately, there is a path forward.
Here’s what it looks like.
Four Steps to Fostering Value-Focused Conversations With Your Team Members
Step 1. Examine Your Beliefs
While you’re a leader and regent of your domain at work, you also have biases, beliefs, and opinions that may or may not be fact-based. If you’re feeling unsettled about an upcoming employee conversation, sit with yourself for a bit and ask yourself questions like these:
- What about this employee situation is bothering me?
- What did the employee say or do and what is the larger issue or question?
- Do the employee’s statements or actions align with my beliefs or run counter to them?
- What exactly are my beliefs on this topic and why do I hold them?
Going on this journey of self-reflection prior to meeting with an employee will assist you with mapping your own thoughts and (hopefully) avoiding any reactionary or defensive posturing if your beliefs run contrary to the employee’s.
Step 2. (Re)Discover Your Core Values
Every good organization has a set of core values. (If you don’t have them, please call me or someone else because you need them!) And great organizations use them for everything—including the framing of employee conversations like the one you’re about to have. Prior to sitting down with an employee, ask yourself:
- What are our core values and which one(s) apply to this issue?
- Are our core values publicized and does our organization truly live them?
- Do I really understand this core value, and can I speak intelligently about it to internal and external stakeholders?
- What real-world examples around this value can I think of that might assist me with this conversation?
Your organization’s core values can be a tremendous asset during conversations like the one you’re about to have. Yet if they simply hang on a wall and say something innocuous like “trust,” they’re likely of little use to you or anyone else.
Step 3. A Conversation of Discovery
This part begins with Stephen Covey 101: Listen initially with the intent to understand and not with the intent to reply. This is your opportunity to engage with the employee as a human and better understand why they said or acted the way they did. Be clear and upfront with the person that you will be having a discussion with them about their behavior as it pertains to the organization’s core values. Be equally clear, though, that this is not an ambush and your intention is to understand the situation from their point of view. Ask questions like:
- Momentarily setting aside what you did/said, why is this issue important to you?
- Was there a reason that you chose that specific time and location to say/do this?
- How do you feel about our organization, what we stand for, and your fellow employees?
- What was your intention with your statement/action? Asked another way, what outcome did you want to achieve?
Step 4. Alignment.
By this point, you should have an extremely clear picture of where you, the organization, and the individual employee stand. Further, you also know which core value(s) of your organization control in this matter. This is when you turn the conversation to a direct discussion of the statement/action and the organization’s core values. Questions like “Do you think that your statement/action was consistent with “Value X?” have a role during this part of the discussion but only inasmuch as you’re able to use questions to enable the employee to own their statement/action. If questions don’t work, it becomes a much more straightforward discussion about what is and isn’t acceptable within these four walls and the values that bind us together.
Make the Time, Walk the Walk, and Then Talk
We are all extremely busy, and conversations like this take time. Don’t close your mind or overlook these steps because you have twenty thousand other items on your “To Do” list. It’s important. If you need strategies for how to get started, I’m always here to help!