You pride yourself on your ability to understand what makes people tick. You work hard to be clear, proactive, to ensure no one is surprised by news – at least not the bad kind.
But something has gone wrong. There is tension between people that you noticed awhile back, but it was no big deal. It’ll work itself out, right? These people have been together and successful for a long time.
It’s not getting better. At all. In fact, it’s getting worse.
What is happening?!
Among all the things we have helped clients with over the years, one key factor stands above the rest – the #1 killer of high-performing teams…
Unspoken Conversations are the root of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, a sense of unfairness. When there aren’t needed conversations, people just make stuff up. And, the made up stuff is often incorrect. We explore how understanding your Culture Types can help avoid unspoken conversations in our new book, iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation.
Recently, we were moderating a weekend Executive Board retreat. We met at a little bed & breakfast about an hour away from the client’s headquarters. About 9 EVPs were there to do some strategic planning for the following year. The parent company was made up of several platforms, which then, in turn, were responsible for several companies.
I picked up a weird vibe as people started to arrive. Awkward interactions. Hesitant hellos.
Sometimes people are uncomfortable just because I’m in the room. But, it always happens about 5 hours in – about an hour after lunch –people’s walls start coming down and real issues come to light.
So, predictably, at about 2:00 in the afternoon, I started to pick up a bit of snark between a couple of people. Not outright hostility; they were being professional. But, little comments, a bit of side eye, were all that were needed to see that the #1 killer of teams was in the room.
There was at least one Unspoken Conversation lurking about.
In this case, it started so easily. A few years back, there was a disagreement in how the departments were spending money. It was felt by one platform that they were bearing an unfair burden of the overhead costs of the company. Another platform was paying for overhead through a different mechanism and knew there was parity in the overhead commitments. However, it was never really fleshed out and resolved at the time.
The feeling of disparity grew into a distancing of the relationship between EVPs. While still managing to get things done, they did not share each other’s company easily. Each interaction was stressful and rife with eggshell walking – absolutely not as effective as it could be, and definitely not high performing.
Once I discovered this Unspoken Conversation, we tackled it head on. We sketched out who thought what when and what the numbers told us. As it turned out, the platforms were equally contributing – it’s just that no one had taken the time to actually draw it up on the whiteboard so everyone could be on the same page.
This issue had been subtly sabotaging progress for years, and we resolved it in about 20 minutes. Twenty minutes!
It’s shocking how fast things turn around once you have the Conversation. People don’t want to feel awkward and unhappy, so once we have the conversations that need having, everyone pivots very quickly to working together. Long-lived misunderstandings can be resolved in a single session.
The older the Unspoken Conversations (the longer it has festered) the more care you need to resolve it. Here are three rules to guiding Unspoken Conversations in your own team:
1. Talk to everyone.
The longer it’s gone on, the more people usually get involved. You’ll have to discuss the issue with a lot more people, including stakeholders external to the team.
2. No one walks away a “winner.”
You have to be careful to not make the “sides” that people have taken seem valid. You have to see the situation from both perspectives and talk everyone through it. With our 3 year issue, if someone walked out of that meeting feeling like they were the “winner,” it would have made everything much worse.
3. Recognize Unspoken Conversations early and fix it right damn now.
As you know, the longer these things go on, the more challenging they are to resolve. We call it the runner’s curve. The longer the race, the more effort it takes to train. The same is true for Unspoken Conversations – if you address issues immediately all the time, it takes much less energy to sort it all out.
Training to watch out for and address Unspoken Conversations will support your team, your mission, and your business and make you stand out as an exceptional leader.
About the Author: Dr. Rachel MK Headley, Senior Partner at Rose Group Int’l, brings a methodical and razor-sharp intellect to solve problems that suit her client organization, its ideal culture, and business goals. Rachel is a Mensa PhD scientist, a certified Project Management Professional, TEDx speaker, and serves on the Council of Trustees for South Dakota State University. Partnering with Meg Manke at Rose Group Int’l, they developed their proprietary iX leadership framework which allows business leaders to solve problems within their teams, address generational issues, manage big changes, and accomplish their most ambitious goals. For more information about Rachel’s book, iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation, click here. For more information about Rose Group Int’l, please visit https://rosegroupintl.com/. Connect with Rachel @sprfsh_rachelon Twitter and on LinkedIn.