The Power of Dialogue: Effective Communication in the Workplace

Positive, two-way communication is a must for any workplace hoping to create or maintain a progressive and productive work culture - but have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly it is that we mean when we say “communication”? Our guest this week on ProjectHR certainly has! In this episode, we;'re joined by Dr. Ada Luz Gonzalez, the owner of Transformative Conversations, a consultancy committed to helping organizations facilitate change, development and growth through dialogue -- and she'll be talking with us about:

  • The differences between communication, conversation, discussion and dialogue;
  • Why dialogue provides meaning and diversity of thought;
  • The cost of poor communication; and
  • How you can design a dialogue that can lead to transformative change!

Dr. Ada Luz Gonzalez

Communication

“To me, that lived in an oppressive system for so many years, it just made me even more passionate about wanting to change organizations and leaders, one at a time. I’m happy any time I can bring that sense of freedom into an organization.”

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Defining Terms

  • Communication: “The big umbrella”. Refers to anything and everything that you are trying to convey to one or more people.
  • Conversation: Friendly interaction between two or more people, where everybody has an equal voice, everybody listens and everybody expresses their thoughts and/or feelings. Can be a light conversation, or a deep conversation, but it always brings that connection.
  • Dialogue: Conversation that permits and invites change. You don’t leave a dialogue the same way you came in. It’s dynamic, interactive, inclusive, lets all voices be heard and leads to deeper understanding and meaning.
  • Discussion: Trying to convey your own thoughts in an effort to convince others.
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A “Love Affair” with Dialogue

  • Dr. Gonzalez was born and raised in Cuba.
  • The most difficult thing about growing up there was the constant fear of saying the wrong thing and having someone assume it was a counterrevolutionary statement, because the consequences could be dire.
  • At 18, she moved to Spain, and it took her at least six months to feel comfortable enough to speak about Cuba without fear of misinterpretation.
  • This is why Dr. Gonzalez is so passionate about free communication, and being able to speak your minds and hearts.
  • When she began working in corporations and interacting with executives and teams in the US, she was surprised to find those same fears that she experienced in Cuba was happening there. Employees had a fear of talking about issues for fear of ruffling feathers. After having lived in an oppressive system for so many years, she was able to spot it immediately, and it made her even more passionate about wanting to change organizations and leaders, one at a time, to bring that sense of freedom into an organization.

The Goal of Dialogue

  • “The goal of dialogue isn’t necessarily truth, but rather meaning.”
  • When searching for “truth” in communication, it can be easy to fall into discussion or debate, instead of into dialogue.
  • However, when you are trying to understand and find “meaning” in communication, through dialogue. You have a more open and creative mind, and it’s easier to collaborate.

The Benefits of Dialogue

  • It brings more freedom to express what is in everyone’s mind, so it brings diversity of thought.
  • It’s an open-ended, dynamic process that continues to flow even after you separate physically. People will continue to reflect on the conversation.

The Cost of Poor Communication

  • Without dialogue, there will be more misunderstandings, you’ll have a greater chance of falling into “groupthink” mentalities, you will have a lot less creativity, and you will miss the opportunity to access the power of diversity of thought within your organization!
  • An International Research Agency did a study about the cost of poor communication -- 44% of the time was lost to address pain points in communication because they didn’t engage in dialogue.
  • So, even if a leader spends more of their time engaging in a proper dialogue process, ultimately they will save time and money because they will avoid the time that would have been lost due to miscommunication.

Designing Dialogue

  • Identifying the participants: Make sure to have the right people in the dialogue. Make sure to include the decision-makers, the ones who do the work, the ones who are impacted by the work.
  • Make sure the physical space is conducive to dialogue - Theatre-style seating is not appropriate for dialogue. You need to be able to see one another’s faces -- so circular seating is preferred.
  • Frame the conversation by crafting questions that prompt participation - Open-ended questions will open dialogue! Let them talk!
  • Remind everyone that connection and meaning-making is the goal.
  • Moderate the dialogue: The moment people begin talking over one another, the dialogue turns into discussion. Dr. Gonzalez has employed a “Talking Stick” approach with management teams, to some success!  

Three Basic Building Blocks of Effective Dialogue

  • These blocks are NOT a linear process, it’s a circular process!
  • STOP: The most difficult building block for the western world. Take the time to stop to reflect, to think, to be silent, suspending assumptions, biases and judgements. Stopping allows us to listen to understand (rather than “listening to respond”). 
  • START: Help people to be able to say what they mean clearly, and in the shortest way possible. Achieve this by inquiring, sharing, cultivating what needs to be cultivated in the dialogue. Learning how to share your thoughts and feelings in your own voice is important!
  • SUSTAIN: To make a dialogue sustainable, you must create a strong, safe space where dialogue participants feel confident, safe and free to share. It should include developing mutual trust and respect, without which dialogue is not possible. It includes being able to embrace honesty and neutrality -- and knowing that all voices are important and valued. It should also include positivity, to smooth the path to dialogue.

“Transformational Change”

  • Collective dialogue can lead to metamorphosis - often transforming the culture itself!
  • Once the change has taken place, you must sustain it by facilitating the new way of being long enough until it becomes the new norm.
  • Model of Change: Something isn’t working → Disruption→ Response to disruption → Transformational Change Occurs → Levelling off of new mold/stabilization.

Transformative Conversations

  • Offer strategic conversations as an executive program for leaders or for leadership teams in which they can learn different modalities and develop dialogue skills. Usually a six month to one-year engagement.
  • “Leading Through Conversations”: A 12-week intensive in-person or virtual group program called “Leading Through Conversations”, based on neuroscience and how the brain works and how the brain and the heart interact. Enables senior executives to move from losing money, people and time due to poor communication to having more engagement and less time lost due to conflicts and inefficiencies.
  • “Applying Neuroscience to Your Leadership”: Goes more into the brain and how the leader can learn the way his own brain works, as well as how to recognize that in others and how to use it in leadership.  

Dr. Ada Luz Gonzalez: Backstory

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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