Event Date: 05/13/2015 (2:00 pm EDT - 3:00 pm EDT)
SARAH: Go Communicate: Exploring And improving How Your Teams Interact. Today’s webinar will last around one hour. If you have any questions, you can always type them into the questions box. We will be answering questions as they come in live at the end of the presentation or as a follow-up by email. My name is Sarah Shafer and I will moderate today’s webinar.
David Hutchens is a best-selling author and consultant who specializes in organizational storytelling, leading, creating and innovating organizational learning systems, and more. He has created award-winning communications and learning solutions for companies such as IBM, the Coca-Cola Company, Walmart, GE, and Nike. Welcome, David, and thank you for joining us today.
DAVID: Thank you, Sarah, and to each of you who are sharing a part of your afternoon to be a part of this conversation. Thank you for dialing in to learn a little bit about Go Team and the different ways of thinking about interaction within teams. With my partner in Go Team is Susan Gerke. She is located in Orange County California. I am actually talking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, which is where my home base is. And together Susan and I have worked with teams and organizations all over the world. And this issue of communication is one that comes up really just all the time. And one thing that teams tell us a lot is that we don’t communicate well in our team. And that’s one of those things that when I hear it, I recognize that it is a signal that something else is probably going on. And I have a feeling that if you have dialed into this webinar you are connected to teams in some capacity I suspect whether you are in the team or you are responsible for teams or you are a leader of the team, I bet you have heard this, too. And sometimes communication issues are just a symptom of an issue like trust is low. Or maybe the problem is because of differences in style. Or maybe it’s a frequency issue that the team doesn’t get to communicate often enough. Or maybe the communication is marred by intent or inappropriate intent of one of the communicators. Or sometimes it really is just a lack of skill. Some people are really good at communicating and some people struggle with it. So, I want to hear your thoughts on this. And, when you think about times that you have heard this, we don’t communicate well in our team, what do you think is the real problem? What do you think is really behind this? And the way this is going to work is, Sarah, correct me if I’m wrong, in the chat window, they will see the chat window probably over to the right of their screen.
SARAH: Yes, correct there’s going to be a little questions box. They are typing in right now.
DAVID: So which of these reasons, if you think style difference is the main reason people don’t communicate well type in one. If you think it’s because of frequency, type in two. If you think it’s the content, or intent, press three. If you think it’s lack of skill, four.
Okay, they are rolling in. I see some of you are typing in multiple choices and that is absolutely allowed. I like it when people break the rules. That’s the way to be. And I’m seeing a strong trend. Someone just said 1,2,3, and four. Someone sees all of them. So, okay, very good. Just scrolling through this, it appears that overwhelmingly style differences, number one, is the main reason that people are not communicating well in teams. And so, that’s good because we are certainly going to talk about that and we will talk about all of these other items as well. We are going to weave all of these through, but, based on your responses, let’s focus on style differences.
So, okay, good. So, as I mentioned, I am one of the authors, one of the co-authors, of a product called Go Team and it is a set of 18 learning modules for teams. And today we’re going to take some materials from two of those Go Team modules. The first one is module number five which is building on style differences in the team. And then also for module number seven, which is enhancing team communication. So you can pick up some skills for yourself, and I’m going to share some models with you that you could run with these. I’m going to give you some ideas of how to take a couple of different frameworks regarding style and communication that you can put to work in your team. So let’s look at these two sets of ideas around the topic of communicating.
In addition to the work that I do, creating learning products like Go Team, I also do a lot of work in the area of using stories to teach organizational principles. I have a series of books out called The Learning Fables, and they introduce different topics of organizational learning. And they have crazy stories and cartoon illustrations. And the reason I’m telling you this is because one of the books in the Learning Fables series is directly related to this conversation that we are having today. And the book is called listening to the volcano. And it’s really nuts. It’s about a fictional world that has the strange property that whenever people speak, their words become real. And they materialize in the air and they drop to the ground so you can see them and you can pick them up and you can manipulate them. And the story goes to some interesting places. As people begin using these physical words to create walls, and physical barriers of separation from one another. And, I found that people are able to connect to that metaphor pretty easily. And I know a lot of people who avoid for example, polarized political discourse. Like you see on cable news all the time. Because they experience it as a conversation that builds walls and reinforces walls, and this happens in teams as well. I was on a team last month where we were stalemated in our communication. And it was easy to imagine a barrier made out of words and the more people communicated the more reinforced that barrier became. So a lot of organizations I work with are putting new emphasis on how people interact with one another. And there are a lot of books and programs on the subject of dialogue. And that’s an interesting word, dialogue. I hear it used in very casual ways. Like, hey could you step out into the hallway with me for a moment to dialogue about the memo you sent. But, our challenge here, is to learn in teams. And, so, dialogue is not a casual activity. It’s a discipline. And it must be practiced. And it is at the heart of your teams’ leadership.
So, let’s take a closer look at the skills involved in dialogue, because there is something rich here that I think you could bring back to your teams. So, conversation is easy, right? You speak, and then you listen, I say some stuff, you say some stuff and now we are communicating, right? Well, sure, perhaps. But, we are going for something deeper in teams. And, we want to move beyond talking and listening to shared team learning, and high-performance, and that requires something different. And I’m talking about these two skills of advocacy and inquiry. And, let’s define our terms here. Advocating is more than just saying what you think. To advocate in dialogue is to put ideas forward with the intent of revealing your mental models and helping others understand your thinking. And, likewise, inquiry is more than just asking a question and listening. It is asking questions with the desire to understand the other person’s reasoning. So, how good is your team at having conversations where you learn together? Well, that is going to depend on the degree to which you practice and balance advocacy and inquiry. And, maybe your team is like a lot of others. And you just don’t pay attention to this stuff. Now, sure, you take turns talking, but, there’s not the explicit intent to explore mental models or our hidden thinking. And, so, this is low advocacy and low inquiry. And this is a lack of real communication. At its best, this might lead to a kind of observational stance that might be a good thing sometimes, but, at its worst, people withdraw and they start to hold back their perspectives. And there is a lack of meaningful contribution in the team.
Now, let’s say your team is strong in inquiry, but low in advocacy. This is a one-way communication, and sometimes this is good, such as in a fact gathering interview. You are not there to reveal your thinking. You just need to understand the other person. In the worst case, this can feel like interrogation because the speaker is holding back and only one party is doing all of the giving. So, now let’s say your team members are the opposite. And you are higher in advocacy and low in inquiry. And I see this one a lot. And I bet you do too. And this is also a one-way communication and it can be good for explaining new information. It’s what I am doing right now. And that is by design. I’m sharing some ideas with you. Currently the conversation is one way. And obviously I am not benefiting from your input or your shared thinking, at least not right now. At this moment, it’s unlikely that we are going to create any innovative breakthroughs together. At least not yet. So, what is it look like when we are purposeful about practicing both high advocacy and high inquiry? Let’s say your team is just full of rockstar communicators. And you balance both advocacy and inquiry. And this is a true two-way communication, and this is where we start experiencing some learning together, because both parties are exposing their thinking, testing their assumptions, and getting new perspectives.
Now the downside is, it takes longer. This is some work, you’ve got to slow down to do this. But the payoff is significant. And Peter Senge in his book the Fifth Discipline, he spends a lot of time on these ideas of dialogue and advocacy and inquiry. And he points to theorists who say there is yet another level and this is mutual learning. And this is exceptionally high-end discipline advocacy and inquiry. And it is a difficult state to achieve, but it leads to new levels of understanding, and mental model shift and frame shifting, and insight, and innovation. And it’s a holy grail of communication. And some theorists would say that most of us experience this only rarely because it’s hard to get past our own mental models and open them up to this degree of inquiry and examination.
So, in Go Team, we have some exercises where team members can start practicing and paying attention to their advocacy and inquiry. But, you can do this on your own. Simply, if you create team learning experience, it will simply create triads where you have a sender and the receiver, and a third person as an observer, and then give them a topic that will require some work. And I like to use topics that are a little bit emotional and maybe even a little bit contentious and that will cause people to take very different mental models. Here’s a few: In your triads discuss what is the greatest sports team or sports hero of all time. If you are in a culture where people are into their sports then people can be pretty polarized in their mental models. All right here’s another one: In Little League or peewee sports, why should every kid should or should not get a trophy? Does every kid get a trophy or not necessarily? And again, people have some strong opinions on that. Here’s another one: What is the age at which kids should be allowed to start dating? You know, if you have teenagers, you probably have some strong opinions on that. And should it be different for girls? Let people wrestle with that so they can begin sharing their own mental models and practicing advocacy and inquiry. So have them take turns. Whatever your prompt is that’s designed to create a spirited conversation. First person A advocates for his or her position and then person B inquires while person C observes and takes notes. And then rotate roles so that everyone gets a turn revealing their own mental models and then exploring the mental models of others.
And pay attention to emotion and feelings of vulnerability, because that’s a big part of this. And I find that it’s always helpful to give people some guidelines. Say stuff like this. It helps them envision what this conversation might look like, whether they actually choose to use these or not. So advocacy statements are along these lines: Here’s what I think, and here’s how I got here; this is my perspective, but I would like to hear what you think about it; what holes do you see in my reasoning? What am I missing? Here are some inquiry statements: I want to understand your conclusion; how did you arrive at it? What did you see or hear that caused you to come to this conclusion? When you say X, when you make that statement or that hypothesis, what does that mean to you? You may be right in your position, I’d like to understand your position more. And, so, perhaps you’re beginning to sense how these orientations might start to create a qualitatively different kind of conversation. And this is a muscle that needs to be exercised, and so that’s why I think it’s valuable to create a learning context where you can begin to practice these. And then bring them out into the work. And you can create these conversations on your own. If you’d like a more structured process, we have got some resources in Go Team that can help you.
So, I’m going to pause for a few minutes because I want to hear some of your thoughts and some of your questions, and just what’s on your mind right now? So far I’ve been providing one lens for thinking about communicating in your teams which is this dialogue advocacy inquiry model. And in a few minutes I want to shift and give you yet another lens, another useful model. But before we do that, let’s pause. And share a few questions that you have and, Sarah, what is the best way, should they use their chat window?
SARAH: Yes, they can use their chat window the same ones that they were typing into the first time.
DAVID: I’m going to give you a few moments, thank you Sarah. Share with me, what’s on your mind right now? One person has written, this is great. The challenge will be not only to implement it myself, but how to get others on board with the concept. And, you are exactly right. This is personally challenging work. The work of exploring your own mental models and having dialogue around it and that is why HRDQ makes available different tools such as Go Team, that can create really and inviting and accessible way to create the space for this conversation. I find that you do need to be purposeful about it. You need to bring people together and say we need to look at how we are communicating and here’s a framework for thinking about that. And using tools either of your own design or from HRDQ or some other source, the point is to be purposeful with the learning. Wow, lots of questions coming in.
Is debate part of the conversation? I’m going to say no to that. I have seen constructs that showed different kinds of discourse in terms of how polarizing and separating they are in a continuum to creating collaboration and mutual learning. And debate usually comes in at the far bad end of that continuum. In debate, I come in with a mental model that I am holding fiercely and I’m not willing to let it go. In debate the terms are win or lose. And I am advocating only for my position not inquiring into your position. You advocate for your position, and we each advocate louder and louder with more and more force until perhaps if this is a structured debate, somebody declares one side is a winner. And what’s your guess as to how effective that is that changing minds or creating shared meaning. It’s not the way to go. Even a step up from debate is discussion. And I’ve heard if you do the anatomy of the word discussion, it’s similar to percussion or concussion. It means to hit. And in a discussion you have an idea and like it’s like you’re hitting it back and forth over a tennis net. You’re not creating something new, you are just knocking it back and forth. And if you bring that continuum up to the highest level dialogue, the roots of dialogue are dia logos, think of dia, diameter and logos is meaning. It’s like a meaning that flows through. That’s the definition of dialogue and so it’s a much deeper level of learning and connecting and meaning making.
This would be great to do in a staff meeting as many want to be the advocator only and forget the rest.
That’s a comment somebody put in the chat window. Yes, you are correct. People are really good at advocating. People are not good at inquiry. That might be the harder skill, and again, you need to pause and be purposeful about it. There are lots and lots of questions here. We could have such a great conversation. Do you want to stay on for two more hours? These are great. What was the book that I recommended earlier? The book is the Fifth Discipline. And it was on the bestseller list for about a decade in the 1990s. Peter Senge is the author of that book and it is a tremendous piece of work and it introduces a body of knowledge known as organizational learning theory. What would it look like in our organization if we made learning our differentiator and our point of competitive advantage and our source of value? What does it look like when we are learning together? When we purposefully step into a learning journey? And he talks a lot about this idea of advocacy and inquiry.
Somebody wrote, when one makes an inquiry as to how one person came to a particular conclusion, sometimes it could be perceived as debating. Yes, you’re right. And that is why I think we need this larger shared understanding that we are having a different kind of discourse here. And, what I shared with you a few minutes ago about debate versus discussion versus dialogue, I even find it helpful to share that with people and by introducing that language you give them a way of thinking about different kinds of discourse and you can invite them into a different form of discourse. And once you do that, then when you start using those inquiry statements it’s not perceived as threatening. It’s perceived as this is mutual learning. And this is collaboration and my role on the team is to begin sharing my assumptions and some mental models just as you will so that we can begin creating something new.
Okay, there are more questions. I am going to set them aside for now, because we have more fun times ahead. And I would like to shift gears a little bit and provide, so, advocacy and inquiry, let’s set that aside. And then I want to bring in a new conversation that’s a different way of thinking about communication on your team. And, since I do a lot of organizational learning, I see a lot of frameworks and constructs about communication and when I saw this one, it struck me, because I see a lot of stuff that’s the same and when I saw this I thought, wow, that’s different. I haven’t thought about communication in this way before. And it’s a model that comes from the work of Dr. Linda Barrons, and again this work is part of Go Team. And in the chat window a few minutes ago I saw that somebody had a question about remote and co-located teams and how is this different. So as we talk about this different lens, I’m going to bring in some thinking about remote teams as well. And this construct from Dr. Linda Barrons has to do with the language that we use when we interact with other people. And her construct says that there are two kinds of language. There is directing language and there is informing language. Now her theory says that we tend to gravitate toward one of these. That is, one of these directing or informal is more natural for you. You have a preferred style and it might be different from my preferred style. It doesn’t mean that we don’t use both. We do, and we should use both. But one of these is going to be more natural for you. And you can probably self diagnose quickly which one of these is more common for you. And directing language has a task and time focus to it. And when I tell you something if I’m using directing language I am telling you what I want and when I want it and I’m creating a concrete structure directing you and I am telling, and asking, directing, and urging. And, for example, in a little while I am actually going to say this. In a little while I’m going to say if you think you have a directing style write one in the chat window now. Now don’t do that yet, but that’s directing language. I’m going to be very directive with you when we come to that exercise. And informing is different. And the idea here is I want you to want to do something, not because I told you to do it. And so the communication sounds a little different. And the focus is on process and your motivation. And the style is evoking and drawing forth, and inspiring and seeking your input. And my goal is to inform or explain or describe or to inquire. And, so, in a little while, the same exercise, if I were to use informing language I might say something different. Notice how this is different. I might say, so, in your web browser, in your meeting browser, there’s a chat window in the corner where anyone can type in questions. So, that’s different right? I haven’t told you what to do. I merely presented a possibility and some of you will say, that’s good. I think I’d like to type in some questions. But not everybody will because I haven’t told everybody to, only people who feel so motivated. So informing language gets a different kind of response. My partner in Go Team is Susan Gerke, she’s not on the call today. She favors directing language. I actually favor informing language. So, our styles are very different. And, Susan tells a great story about her husband. Susan favors directing language, her husband uses informing language and she doesn’t mind that I tell the story. Susan says that she and her husband both wear contact lenses. And so she keeps saline eyedrops in her purse. Because you never know when you’re going to need saline. So one day they were walking through the store, and her husband said, my eyes are burning. And Susan says, oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. And she keeps walking. And that’s the end of it. And then later, Susan’s husband says, I want to ask you a question. A little while ago when I asked you for help, why didn’t you help me? And Susan said, you never asked me for help. So, do you hear the disconnect here between the informer and the director? And so they both laughed about it because it revealed a lot about the different styles and the problems that can come with those styles. So let’s keep looking at this little bit. Here’s a couple of cartoons that really do a nice job of illustrating this. Here’s a directing phenomenon. So a girl sticks her head in the hiring office and she says are there any job openings here? And the personnel director says yes, come on in, shake hands, sit down and be interviewed. And the girl turns around and he says boy, if they’re so bossy now, imagine if I worked for them. So, sometimes when we are direct, it comes across as bossy or overbearing. Here’s the second one. And this is an illustration of the informing style. So the little girl runs in says mommy, she holds out her hand and says hold it right there, that’s actually a directing statement. Hold it right there, I just finished cleaning the living room. Now listen to this informing statement. I don’t ever want to have to clean up that kind of mess that was in here again. Do you understand? The girl says yes. And later daddy says, hi Zoe what’s new. And the little girl says mommy says from now on you have to clean the living room. This is where you insert laugh track. So, one of the challenges with informing language, and this is what Susan’s husband experienced, is there is room for misinterpretation. And here’s where there’s big impact for a remote team. Because if you are working in a remote team, both of these styles become amplified. So, in a remote team if you are communicating over email or if you are communicating asynchronously, direct communication sounds very direct and even bossy. And informing communication sounds evasive or wishy-washy. And that’s because we are not co-located, we can’t read others faces and nonverbals.
So, let’s do a quick poll here. And as we did before, here, what do you think is your more natural style? If you think it’s directing just write the number one in the chat window. If you are more natural style is informing write number two. I’m seeing a pretty nice mix. Couple threes, saying I’m not sure. But mostly I’m seeing a pretty good balance. One person says I am both depending on the situation. And that’s ideal is to have some flexibility and have some context awareness. Actually I would say I’m seeing a lot of people choosing and informing style. Here we go, at home I am a one, have work I am two. At home I am directing, at work I am informing. Yes, I assume the person who said that might have some kids at home. And so you’re saying a lot of things like wipe off those feet before you come in here and please bring your laundry up to your room. So if you have small children you’re constantly establishing boundaries, that’s a lot of directing communication. So, this is interesting. I think there are more twos, more informing in this group. And so, because this is HRDQ, I wonder if more of the participants are in a learning context or a team development context, which if you are attracted to learning work and people work and to the people development work, it makes sense that you might have more of an informing style where you want to invite people into a collaborative space and use that kind is informing language, though, that makes sense to me that in this audience it would be weighted towards number two. Often in executive audiences, which do you think it’s weighted towards? Yes, there is more directive communication. So, let’s look at the advantages and the disadvantages of each. The advantages of a directing style it’s fast, it’s clear, at its best it’s not ambiguous, there is not room for misinterpretation, and it’s a good way to go if I am asking you to do something that you have never done before. First do step A, then do step B, and then do step C. Oh, thank you, I didn’t know that, thank you for directing me. The disadvantages of a directing style is if I always do it, if I most of the time communicate to my people in a directing way, the first challenges they can become dependent on that. And, if I want my team or my people to take initiative, after a while, they are going to start saying well, just wait for David to tell us what to do, because he always does. Just hang on, the instructions are coming. And this is even worse in a remote environment. And even worse if you are in different time zones. And I’ve gone to bed and you can’t get my direction until I wake up the next morning and then it’s the middle of the night for you, so, like everything else, the challenge can become amplified in a remote environment. And we can’t afford to have people waiting around on us for direction. Another challenge with directing behavior is that you can get what is called malicious compliance. Malicious compliance is when people do exactly what you say and only what you say. And it’s because they are getting angry about your over directing language and they say hey you only told me to do A, B, C, you didn’t ask me to do D. That is malicious compliance. In the laundry example, my kids do that. I’ll say hey guys why did you cram your clean clothes into the drawer? And now they are just getting all wrinkled. And the kids will say hey, you only told me to wash my close and put them away. You never said to fold them. Well, thanks a lot, Einstein. I have some conversations to have with my kids in that case, right? So that is malicious compliance and that is a function of staying in directing communication all the time.
Let’s look at the informing language. Advantages of informing language. It’s empowering. It creates an environment of creativity. If you want people to have ownership, then informing language gets you there. Or if you have senior or experienced people, you don’t have to tell them what to do. You can just say we have a need and experienced people will know what to do. And the downside, the possible disadvantage is sometimes people don’t know that you’ve asked them to do something. And that’s the story of my friends Dave and Susan. So if I say it would be nice to have a quarterly report, do you think? Yes, that would be nice. And then later I’m surprised that you didn’t write the report. Why didn’t you write the report? You never asked me to. And I am thinking yes I did. So, what’s the solution to this?
These styles exist on a continuum. And I’ve been talking like it’s a binary like it’s black and white, but it’s not. It’s a continuum. And look how the nuances change as you move from directing on the left to informing on the right. There are two in the middle that the text is bleeding out of the box but there are two in the middle that are blend. Please give me the eyedrops my eyes are dry. Some of the words are out-of-the-box, but please give me the eyedrops. My eyes are dry. It’s unfortunate the word please bled out of the top of the box because that’s a high leverage way of softening directing language. Just bring in some courtesy into it. Please give me the eyedrops. So that’s directing followed by informing. And the next one just flips it is informing followed by directing. My eyes are dry. May I have the eyedrops. I make it a point to use a blend I make it a point to use a blend All the way over to the far continuum. When I host this conversation, what you’re looking at right now, when I host this conversation with teams, this is a simple idea. They connect to it very quickly and they are able to easily diagnose what’s going on in their own team. And they say, oh, so that’s why we are misunderstanding each other. I thought you were being bossy. Or I didn’t realize you are asking us to do stuff. And so this is a simple conversation. It’s easy to have this conversation and it has a lot of leverage. And with this language you can start to identify some norms together. When I communicate with email, for example, I think about this and I make it a point to use a blend, you know like those middle statements. I use both directing and informing statements. You can lead with either one; you could lead with directing or informing but being purposeful about bringing in a blend. Again, for the people who asked about a remote environment, and remote teams, I tell people, if you are in a remote environment, you can’t use the ends anymore. Give me the eyedrops is way too strong in a remote environment. If it’s in an email or an asynchronous communication it comes across as too strong. And my eyes are dry will be so vague that people will wonder why he said that. So that’s a simple tool, which I find leads to some universal awarenesses and experiences. And this provides a language to describe something that you may have noticed, but now once you give people a language, now they can talk about it and it generates that conversation about this team and our dynamic, when should I inform and when should I direct? And it can help us understand each other. So when Susan says to her husband give me the eyedrops, her husband knows she is not bossing me around, that’s how she communicates. That’s her style, her style is different than mine.
So, let’s pause there, and I see quite a few comments that have popped in. And give me a moment to look at some of these. One person said I received directing from the top, but I must communicate informatively to the staff to get their buy-in. And that’s an excellent insight. Sometimes the executive communications are all about creating alignment. And creating fast alignment and some communications are not looking for your buy-in, they are saying hop to it go make it happen. And then as a manager, bringing your people into alignment you need to use a different style, the style that comes down to the executive committee can’t be the same style that you use. You want to invite people into a dialogue. You want them to begin aligning and sharing their ideas and their emotions and responses so now you’re creating a dialogue.
I’ve seen several statements that say may I receive this PowerPoint. And the answer is, yes.
To the person who wrote I am a believer, yes, again, this is one of those ideas that when someone describes it you go yup, I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I have been tripped up by that. So, good, I’m going to pause there and Sarah, let me hand this back over to you and let you manage where you want the conversation to go next.
SARAH: All right, perfect, David, thank you. If you guys would like to get in touch with David after the session, his contact information is on that screen right now. We do have some more time for some questions, so attendees go ahead submit any questions you have. And while we wait just a little bit for this questions to come in let me share a little bit about the program that is the foundation of today’s session. And that is the Go Team reproducible library. It has 18 team critical topics. Go Team is a complete training resource that supports all kinds of teams including brand-new teams as well as teams that have been together for a while. And we are also offering a special offer for 40% off any module. And you will receive that coupon code in your email after the session. So, David I do actually have a few more questions coming in, so why don’t we go ahead and get started on those.
The first one looks like it’s coming from Lauren: So many people get upset with a direct style. How do we get people not to take things personally?
DAVID: One way is to host this conversation and change the meaning of the direct style and anytime you have a conversation about style differences or about personality preferences that’s the power of that conversation. It normalizes and depersonalizes the meaning of behaviors. And so using directing language, oh, you are not being bossy. My wife actually uses direct language as well, and early in our marriage I had to learn how to send that through my filters. Oh she’s not being bossy because her tone was never bossy, it’s just her language was different than what I was used to. And that’s her preferred style. And now I don’t perceive it as bossy, it’s the same dynamic in David and Susan’s marriage as well. So, having this framework, having this conversation about what it means you have to pause and talk about that. When I communicate like this here’s what it means. The other thing you can do is if you are the person with directing language, we talked about that malicious compliance, look for opportunities to balance it. And the opposite is true as well. Some of the comments in the chat box here I’m almost seeing a bias that informing language is better than directing language. And, I’m not sure it is. I think that they are both equally important. I’m working with a large insurance company that’s in the Midwest of the United States, and they are struggling because they have that Midwestern polite culture, where when they bring the team members in for performance reviews nobody is willing to use directive language or say here’s what I’m seeing or here’s what needs to happen. And so those conversations are being compromised because everybody is almost going to the far end of informing and they are being evasive and it’s because it’s perceived as polite. And to be directive is not impolite. And so sometimes there’s a values conversation that has to happen of what it means to talk in a directive way. It doesn’t mean I’m being rude or impolite. And I see that in southern organizations. And I’m here in the South in Tennessee so I see that polite dynamic a lot in the South and in the Midwest. And so there are biases on both sides. What else, Sarah?
SARAH: All right, great, thanks. Our next one is coming from Patty: On presentation styles, have you found that some industries or professions where one style, directing or informing, is more prevalent?
DAVID: No. Actually, yes. Last year I did some work with the US Air Force. Take a guess. What kind of style do you think leadership in the Air Force uses? Or in any of the military branches? That’s kind of a no-brainer, yeah. Everyone’s writing in the chat window directive, directive, with lots of exclamation points. So, yeah, there are some cases like military where the culture is so built on a directing style there is even theory about extremely hierarchical top-down organizations where you are not looking for creativity. You want tight alignment. You want everybody on the battlefield to move and turn and shift all at the same time and so it’s high directing. For the most part, I would say directing versus informing is not industry-specific. I think it’s more likely to be regional. Like I was just describing with polite cultures in the Midwest and the South, whereas, perhaps Northern, New York City there may be a preference for directive communication rather than informing. So I think it’s more cultural than industry based. At least in my experience.
SARAH: All right, great, thank you. We have time for a few more questions. Our next one is from Brenlynn: how do you know when you’re informing too much?
DAVID: You are informing too much if you are not seeing alignment. If everyone is moving, and pursuing the work, but they are not bringing it together. It’s the old herd of cats, where everybody wandering off in different directions, sometimes you need to say from your position as a leader, you see the big picture. You have a perspective that not everybody has. Alright everybody we need to get back together. We’re losing some opportunities here; here’s what I would like to see happen. So sometimes you want people moving in a specific direction and that’s when you don’t want to use informing. Another time you don’t want to use informing is when speed is an issue. I was on a client call actually just this morning and I wasn’t the team leader. The team leader said all right I’m going to start off the call. David I’m going to hand it over to you. I want you to speak to these three points. I mean he is telling me what to say. And I did not think hey you can’t tell me what to say. No, the client was going to get on the phone in about three minutes and we wanted it to be tight. We wanted to be an aligned team. And it was appropriate for him to take that directing style so that we can all work together in tight alignment.
SARAH: All right, great, thanks. Our next question is from Mary: Where does the ladder of interference into this discussion of dialogue? Is that connected to advocacy and inquiry?
DAVID: I wonder if she means the ladder of inference. Yes, we were talking about organizational learning. Absolutely. So the person who is asking about what was the book the Fifth Discipline and Peter Senge, the body of organizational learning theory introduces actually there is a learning theorist named Chris Argyris who wrote a very influential article a few years ago in Harvard Business Review it was called Teaching Smart People how to learn. He says that smart people are the worst learners. He introduced this construct called the ladder of inference and it’s a powerful, powerful idea. And it shows how we all live in the same world of data. How is it that we all come to such different political beliefs even empassioned divisive beliefs when we are all living in the same world of data and yet we have these polarized views where we are so confident in our own worldview that we can only conclude well if you see it different, there must be something wrong with you or you must not have thought through the data or you must be dumb. And then we start applying labels to explain the difference and the ladder of inference tracks how that phenomenon happens. And it shows how each of us begins with a belief system and then living in a world of data, we all see the same data, but I select certain data some people call this confirmation bias. I tend to notice the data that reinforces my belief system. I start rejecting data that is inconsistent with my belief system and after a while that inconsistent data becomes invisible to me. I can’t even see it anymore. And so we go through this reinforcing loop where beliefs affect he data we select and the data reinforces the beliefs and pretty soon we are so solidified in our belief it becomes very difficult to change or challenge the mental model. And so the exercise of advocacy and inquiry, if you want to take it deep you would start using the ladder of inference as a way of naming what’s happening. Let me share with you the data that I selected. Let me add to that the assumptions that I made. Based on that assumption, I added some meaning. I came to conclusions. Those conclusions affect my belief system. And now that belief system affects which data I select. The difficult challenging work of mental models, if you use the ladder of inference, as using that construct to illuminate your own process. So I will pause there.
SARAH: All right, perfect, thank you, David. And would you just like to add any final thoughts before I go ahead and wrap up this session?
DAVID: I see that we only have a couple of minutes left and there’s a lot of great questions and comments that have come in and, Sarah, I hope that even after we close out, I will be able to grab the statements and hang onto them, and perhaps even respond to some of them.
SARAH: Yes, we actually are going to be sending out a detailed email next week. So we are going to take all the unanswered questions that we didn’t get to and I’m going to send them to you and then you’re going to answer them and then we are going to send them out for you next week. So everybody’s questions will be answered. So don’t worry about that.
DAVID: Good, because there are so many good ideas in here. I want everybody to hear these.
SARAH: Yes we are definitely going to be sending those out probably mid next week then with those answered questions from you.
DAVID: Thank you.
SARAH: All right perfect. Well David, thank you so much, again. And thank you everybody who attended, and again we’re going to be sending out those questions next week. So, we appreciate your time and we hope you found today’s webinar informative. Thank you.
All day, every day, teams rely on communication to get work done. But teams are made up of people—and people are human. That means teams will struggle with communication at some point in time. And that’s why it’s important for them to foster greater awareness of their own communication preferences and to exercise their capabilities for advocacy and inquiry. This way, communication becomes more than a process for transferring information; it becomes an important source of learning, transformation, and innovation.
Join subject matter expert David Hutchens for their upcoming live webinar, GO Communicate!: Exploring and Improving How Your Teams Interact. He’ll offer fresh ways to help you address the communication challenges your teams encounter through increasing both dialogue skills and self-awareness. Based on the work of Dr. Linda Berens, he’ll explore two unique lenses for communication: the “advocacy and inquiry” model and “directing and informing” style differences.
Participants Will Learn
- The disciplines of advocacy and inquiry to create productive team conversations
- How to practice conversations that exercise advocacy and inquiry
- How to develop a plan for purposeful team communication
Who Should Attend
- Team leaders
- Organization development professionals
- Management team members
- Human Resources managers
David Hutchens is a bestselling author and consultant who specializes in organizational storytelling, leading, creating and innovating, organizational learning, systems, and more. He has created award-winning communications and learning solutions for companies such as IBM, The Coca-Cola Company,
Wal-Mart, GE, and Nike, just to name a few.