Is Positive, Open Dialogue a Lost Art in our Organisations? Professional Journey Steps: step #17

Is Positive, Open Dialogue a Lost Art in our Organisations? Professional Journey Steps: step #17

I contemplated, for a nano-second entitling this piece ‘Curiosity Counters Contempt in Conflict Communications’ but then thought better of it, not to mention knew I’d be struck down by the Alliteration Police! So we’ll stick to the focus topic, Open and professional dialogue.

This topic has been one I’ve wanted to put out there for consideration and comment for quite awhile so here goes – and I’m done with the ‘C’ alliterations, promise.

There seems to be a conspicuous lack or at least substantially diminished enthusiasm for good passionate, positive debate, or more correctly, dialogue within our organisations. Has anyone noticed this beside me?

We all know the best high performance organisations and teams have great diversity of experience and perspective but if this is being thwarted in our dialogue and communication what’s the point, there is no gain!

Have we over the course of a short period lost the art of debate and rhetoric? Or is it something else, which is stymying the discourse?

Here are a few things we can recommend to watch out for which can shut your dialogue down cold. If you are aware of them (and others) perhaps you can re-enable the all-important sharing of ideas through professional discussion, positive conflict.

Polarisation: occasionally someone who commences a dialogue or perhaps it is just their turn to speak at a meeting, disengages a large portion of the group with a polarising statement. Something like, ‘I’m voting for Donald Trump and if you don’t you’re all un-American’ <beg forgiveness from all my fellow Australians – this is just so topical couldn’t resist as an example>.  Now this statement is likely to do one of two things; start a heated but off the real topic argument, or just as derailing, shut down the ‘other side’ completely. Both are remarkably unproductive, so be wary of polarising statements shanghaiing positive discussion.

Safety & MUM effect: If your colleagues perceive a lack of the safety component associated with speaking up they will certainly choose to stay silent. These are more common than most think and it is from THEIR perspective not yours so difficult to pick up – they may feel they’ll possibly harm their image, be labeled as troublemakers or as complainers, present themselves with a ‘target’ on their back by simply disagreeing with someone’s statements. Perhaps they think they’ll lose the respect and support of others; not receiving a possible promotion; or even more drastically put themselves at risk of being fired! These are social and professional discomforts, which are real in the workplace.[1]To avoid any social discomfort due to the transmission of bad news and to provide a harmonious environment, employees often withhold information, giving rise to the MUM effect[2].

Extraversion and Introversion: Extraverts can unknowingly hijack meetings, so can anyone with their own agenda. Hijackers can also pose another hurdle; they intimidate the introverted and unite the indifferent and disenfranchised in their silence. These may seem counter intuitive particularly if you are of the perception your team is outgoing and not afraid to speak up, but what about the introverted, isolated or indifferent members, you’ll have some and they may have the most relevant points and solutions. Can we afford not to provide the environment and culture for them to participate and contribute fully?

There are no shortage of reasons why a person or persons may not open up and engage in a debate for positive outcome and sharing of ideas. But often, it’s because someone has shut the door in one way or another. More often than not; it’s not them, it’s could be you, directly or indirectly by sanctioning restrictive or fearful behaviour.

Our MSB Max Professional Journey Step Tip for this edition is:

Be on the look out for any obstacles, get to know your people on your team well and any of their idiosyncrasies, pave the way for them to overcome these (remember this will be an emotional hurdle so E.I. skills required) and promote positive productive verbal conflict – A.K.A. impassioned, substantive dialogue. It’s the best way to get the most from your people.

One more piece of advice – discover the lost art of rhetoric. It’ll change how you look at this whole process. A good starting point is a great book: Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs – an excellent mixture of function and funny!

Always look forward to your comments, input and feedback. Enjoy your journey,


[1] Detert & Trevino, 2010; Grant, 2013; Milliken & Morrison, 2003; cited by Morrison, 2014; Ashford et al., 2009; Adler-Milstein, Singer & Toffel, 2011).

[2] Morrison, E. W. (2014). Employee voice and silence. The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), pp. 173-197