Are You Benefiting from Open-Minded Conversations?

Ann Van Eron, Author, OASIS Conversations: Leading with an Open Mindset to Maximize Potential

Are You Benefiting from Open-Minded Conversations?

I often see teams and organizations stalled because people are not speaking to one another. Sometimes they really don’t say anything and other times they speak in a guarded fashion that does not bring about innovation or real results.  

Misunderstandings and distrust sap energy. For example, Myra felt excluded because she assumed that her boss Eva spent time with a colleague on a business trip and did not include her. She was angry and wrote an email disparaging her colleague’s work.  Their boss stepped in with a reprimand and said she expected more respectful and collegial interactions. This caused Myra to complain about her boss and escalate her dissatisfaction to the larger team. After several months the tension on the team had grown and they called me in to mediate. The sad thing is that the team members now distrusted each other and had said things that even worsened their relationships.  It seems like a lot of wasted energy.  It took some time to decipher this small drama.

This kind of misunderstanding and miscommunication happens in workplaces, families and communities all over.  Opportunities are missed. With a few simple skills, we can divert much of this turmoil.  With an open mindset and open-minded conversation skills we can experience more positive and productive environments and results.

First, an open mindset involves assuming positive intent. Let’s face it, as humans we all have biases based on our upbringing and experience. We can’t see everything and we easily make assumptions. We need to manage our immediate judgment of others and assume that most of the time they are doing the best they can based on their perspective.  If we can also be kind to ourselves when we notice our reaction and learn to shift from judgment to being curious and compassionate, we can have a conversation where we learn other view points and can share ours and ideally come to some understanding and agreement on next steps. Brain research supports that when we are open, we actually support others in being open. Emotions are contagious.

I have found what I call the OASIS Moves to support open-minded conversations. If Myra knew the process she could have first noticed her judgmental reaction when she felt excluded.  Rather than lash out, she could have realized she may not be seeing everything (even though she felt sure).  She could stop, step back and Shift to being open. When she cooled down by recalling an oasis—perhaps envisioning a calm place or listening to music or engaging in a positive activity she would be more prepared for a meaningful conversation.

It might sound like this:

Myra:  When you did not ask me what I was doing for dinner on our business trip, (Observation)

I assumed that you were having dinner with our colleague Chris instead.  I felt disappointed because I expected we would get together after our meeting to discuss progress. (Awareness)

I am curious about your expectations. I want us to have a positive and productive experience as a team.  I realize you may have a different idea of how to proceed. (Shift to being open)  Responding to Myra’s open and non-judgmental tone, Eva, her boss, would have shared that she did not meet with the other colleague and instead met an old friend for dinner.

What is your view of how we should process our meetings with clients on these visits?  (Importance)  Here Myra would listen to Eva and hear her point of view. She would give her empathy and demonstrate understanding.  After understanding Eva’s point of view, Myra would share what is important to her. For example, “I like to process our interaction with the clients right away so we can learn and course correct for the next meeting. I find it useful to have a meeting with all of the team to hear all views.”

Eva would understand where Myra was coming from and could be more direct about her needs and plans. She may also say that she sees the value of meeting as a team after client presentations.

Myra could summarize after listening.  “I see that we both want to process and learn from team meetings with clients. It is important for me to quickly get feedback and you may have other commitments but are open to scheduling the review.”

(Solution)  They then explore options.  They then decide to make a review part of their process and they agree to be explicit when the review will occur. If possible, they will meet after the client meeting, even for dinner. If not, they will schedule the follow up session as soon as possible.

With the ability to manage her reaction and engage in an open-minded conversation, Myra strengthens the relationship with her boss and team.  They have more energy for innovation and focusing on their offer and enjoy a positive environment.

The OASIS moves are what we naturally do when having positive interactions. We can build the skill of shifting to being open and activating the part of our brain that is more expansive and open to possibilities. 

The interesting thing is that emotions are contagious and the more we are open, the more others are too and we experience increased engagement, more energy and more productive outcomes. Make it your goal to catch yourself reacting and assume positive intent. Then try talking with those who seem to have a different point of view.  Hopefully, you will also avoid unnecessary turmoil.

About the Author

Ann Van Eron, Ph.D., MCC is principal of Potentials, a global coaching and organization development consulting firm with experience coaching leaders and teams all over the world.  She is the author of OASIS Conversations: Leading with an Open Mindset to Maximize Potential. and