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  • barnardbahn

A way to move forward, with understanding

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

People often listen to respond, but it is sometimes even more important to listen to understand. For these past few weeks, I’ve been focused on listening to understand. 

I’m convinced more than ever that the work we do to be courageous and vulnerable — required for effective leadership — is critical to making a positive impact in our homes, workplaces and communities. We need good intent, combined with concrete actions for change

Here are three recommendations to achieve positive change by listening to voices previously unheard: 

1. Get comfortable having the uncomfortable conversations. To fully leverage the talent and commitment of your team, everyone needs to actively participate and bring their whole selves to work. Leaders need to facilitate a full dialogue and create a safe space that enables all voices to be heard in a way that moves the team forward in achieving its goals.

When we all feel free to speak up, there is a greater chance for a topic to be raised that we will not always agree on. That’s okay - agreeing doesn’t have to be the goal. Understanding can be enough

2. Equip yourself and your team with productive conflict tools. A timely example: many companies are holding town halls and asking Black employees to share their experience in the workplace, but not equipping teams with a shared language and tools to use to 1) ensure that the dialogue is productive, and 2) enable positive change that sticks.

It’s pointless (worse, even) to ask for people to speak up and then do nothing with the feedback. You need to be prepared to act and potentially make some changes.

Dialogue around social and political issues in the workplace, as well as routine disagreements about how work gets done, aren’t always facilitated effectively (there’s a reason many people avoid them altogether!).

As I shared in my recent keynote, diversity and innovation lead to conflict. I’m partnering with several clients currently to equip their teams with tools and strategies so they can create an effective space to share, connect and learn from each other to move forward productively as a team. 

If handling conflict productively sounds like something your company or team needs, we should talk. Reach out and let’s explore some solutions.

3. Focus on one improvement, and then hold yourself and others accountable. Think about how your team currently operates, and consider one behavior norm that you’d like to change for the better.

For example, at one point you may have embraced a team value of respect, but in your current team meetings people interrupt each other and don’t take turns speaking. Perhaps one person dominates the conversation, one person is usually silent, and another is often late to the meeting.

To make respect more than a word on the wall, share what you’ve noticed with your team. Put the issue on the table and get their input. To change the norm, agree on the specific behaviors for the new norm and commit to 200% accountability.

With 200% accountability, each team member is 100% accountable for themselves, and 100% accountable for others – meaning if they see a colleague not acting consistent with the agreed-upon norm, they are required to call it out directly to that other person. 

As you design your new team norm, it is helpful to agree ahead of time on how to call out noncompliance; make it easy for colleagues to gently remind each other of the right behavior. It’s helpful to sit down and have the team script out actual words that would be used to hold each other accountable (like “Deepa still has the floor,” when someone interrupts). When the team has input, they are giving permission to use those words when an incident occurs.

Acknowledge that everyone will mess up sometimes — the key is to drive accountability between team members. When everyone feels comfortable holding each other accountable regardless of status or position, your team behavior norm will change for the better. 

Crisis is always bundled with opportunity for leaders. Think about this — how is your team getting its fundamental needs met for safety, purpose and belonging?

Hear what I have to say about these values in a recent interview with Rhett Power.

Before I sign off, please do something for me - drop me a note (amii and share one thing your team is doing to create healthy workplace cultures where all voices are part of the conversation. It would be great to collect these and share with this community.  

Take care, and if you found this information valuable, please share with anyone else who might find it helpful.


“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” - Dalai Lama

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