In my book, Practical People Engagement, I use this illustration of the modes of engagement. Far too often, I find classical approaches to engagement and communications planning almost always overlook the power and versatility of the ubiquitous conversation. We, as human beings, have had all of human history and pre-history to hone the practice of language and executing language through a conversation.
But modes are not the same as levels. How deep do you go with a conversation, for example?
There are, of course, degrees of engagement as there are degrees of relationship we have with people. I do not have the same level of intimacy with my bank manager as I do with my wife (thankfully!).
So a pretty basic level is the transaction conversation. This is a conversation where the aim is to exchange information, or get agreement, or get a sale, for example. Often if can be successful without needing to share deeply with the other party.
And it is usually attempted in one conversation. As sales managers might put it: aim to close the sale in that conversation.
Now here’s the caution: this kind of transactional conversation can back-fire very quickly when we are dealing with people who already feel aggrieved about the change we are either making or even just proposing to make. This grievance may be legitimate, in our view, or not; it is still a felt hurt by them.
We can attempt too much in one conversation with people we are seeking to influence, and do more harm than good.
If we still think with the purely transactional mindset, it is all too easy to find ourselves doing this. We just want to process that person at the desk as quickly as possible. We want to end that interrupting call as soon as possible so we can get on with our day. We just want to clear that email out of our inbox. Urgency can work against us here.
A far better approach is the two-conversation strategy outlined in a recent HBR article by Sally Blount and Shana Carroll. The first conversation is seeking evidence from the other party, perhaps using active listening, discovering not just the facts, but the underlining emotions of that person or group, and making sure they know that they are being listened to carefully.
The second meeting should follow shortly after on the basis that you have thought carefully about meeting their concerns and objections. It’s in this second conversation that you set out your proposal and its merits.
By splitting the conversation in this way, you are honouring the other party. They are likely to think, “You hear me.” They are also more likely to be persuaded since you have given time and consideration to their concerns. Also, the pause possibly influences our thinking also, where we may identify those win-win solutions we did not first identify.
In my book, the first principle is taken from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand and then be understood.
The problem with transactional, broadcast communications is that it leaves no space to hear people, to dialogue, to understand them to any significant extent.
Now, you may be thinking in all this, This is all very well, but I just don’t have time for all of this engagement stuff!
Well, I have two responses to that:
- In a change of any size and complexity, absolutely! You should not attempt to do all of this engagement by yourself. In my online coaching programme, Exploring People Engagement (see below) I will show you how you can scale up the engagement over a large and diverse group of interested parties.
- Chronic urgency is so commonplace in our 21st Century workplace that it may be something closer to you and how you lead yourself. John Ortberg calls this phenomenon hurry sickness. Last year I published my second solo book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, and as with my first book, I’ve developed a companion online personal development programme for that too. If you would like to know more about that programme, please click here.
Allow me to challenge you. Meet with one more person, one-to-one in your work environment or project each day. That one-to-one can be physically or virtually.
Then comment on this post below and tell me how it is going.