Conversations to stop things going wrong

Published On: 20 October 2023Categories: Insights, Leadership

Photo by Cody Engel on Unsplash

In a perfect business, every day would be great.   Meetings would facilitate decisions. Projects would run on time and budget. Ideas would find backers. Customers would be happy. Teams would pull together.  Cultures and companies would thrive. Everyone would be less stressed.

Unfortunately, life is more complex. A person, an action or an event surprises us; there is a discussion on what went wrong, and we have to course correct.  This wastes time and damages trust. As my coach once said, “The only thing that goes wrong in business is that the right conversation didn’t take place.”  Helpful with hindsight. Transformative with foresight.


Finding connections.

Who we talk to creates our “business view”; what we believe is true based on our interpretation of strategies, values, and stories and how we make sense of our environment and expectations.  When we spend most of our time with familiar faces and narratives, our perspectives narrow, we miss the subtleties, and it’s harder to get stuff done.

My ah-ha moment came when I worked for a large telecommunications company.   The enterprise business unit was trying to acquire small business customers through the online channels “owned” by the consumer business unit, and we were struggling to get traction internally.  Luckily, I met  The Connected Leader’s author at a leadership development event.   He recommended mapping an organisation through a real lens.  The real connections to that help you to do your job.  Here is how the map gets drawn:

  • Write your name in the middle of a blank piece of paper (like a Mind Map).
  • Then, draw lines from this central node and write the names of the people you need to help you do your job—one name/team per line. Think beyond your manager and team.  It might include different functions or be external, like a customer or subject matter expert.
  • Make each line thicker to represent the importance of the relationship (in getting your job done).
  • Now score the quality of each relationship with +, ++, +++ or -, –, —.
  • What do you notice?

I noticed that I needed a better relationship with the Head of Retail.  It wasn’t that we didn’t get on; it was just that I didn’t spend any time with him to have the right conversation.


Building Rapport.

Modern technology helps us to communicate more, and yet less.  A conversation to move things forward on a busy day might be reduced to a one-line email. “Please, can you x?”  How it will be received is overlooked in our haste. Consequently, the request might be ignored, denied or completed but not achieve the desired outcome. Conversations that are one-way cause us to miss the context and insights into other issues.  How could a “no” become a “yes and”?

Usually, conversations falter because of a disconnect between:

  • What was said and what was heard.
  • What was said and what was meant.
  • How it was said (tone of voice and phrasing).
  • Lack of context.

The best conversations start with listening and seeking to understand.

 “How are you?” is a simple greeting that elicits deep insights.  From even a one-word answer, you might deduce that someone is busy or calm, happy or sad, tired or energised, focused or vague.  Or you might discover what is happening in their life.

A previous CEO said he often asked, “What’s keeping you awake at night?” to create connection, and find the right opening to ask for help or to influence an outcome.   As the person shared their challenge, he said, “I think I can help”.   An opportunity to find a win-win outcome.

Building rapport with a colleague helps us to discover unknown information relating to our company, our team, our initiative, and our role. Insights that enable us to make small changes now and avoid bigger problems later.   The influence stretches beyond your relationship and ripples out across the organisation.


Making Time.

Connections are what make us human.   But too often, we only connect in times of crisis.  Nurturing our networks makes work a more fulfilling experience and accelerates action.

Our collaborative working tools and open calendar mean that, all too often, our days are filled with a responsive catalogue of regular meetings and calls, shaping our community.

As well as creating time to think, we need to make time to connect with the people in our real network.  Turning rapport building into a habit.  Make connecting:

  • Obvious – schedule regular catch-up times.
  • Attractive – catch up over a coffee or lunch or a walk.
  • Easy – use face-to-face time in the office or at an event to connect with people outside your immediate network.
  • Satisfying – build reciprocity. How can you help others?


Be the Change

Start a conversation today.  It might not be perfect, but it will be better.


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