An interesting thing happens when someone feels empowered to participate in, or better yet, to be the catalysts for candid conversations. They feel less alone, less isolated from others on the team. They become more willing and able to share their thoughts in a constructive and encouraging manner. They are more interested in listening to others. They pay attention to the conversation.
The Kitchen Table Conversation (KTC) approach to interaction teaches participants to let go of their personal agenda, removes barriers, and sets the stage for gracious and participatory candid conversations. The KTC methodology is more than just a vehicle to cultivate and funnel innovative ideas or to generate greater creativity. It encourages candid dialogue that enable tight-knit, productive networks to form throughout the organisation. They empower teams and individuals to improve performance, and to surface and address stifling roadblocks. But it doesn’t happen spontaneously.
4 Steps for Success
A bit of preparation goes a long way. Here are some important elements related to fostering candid conversations.
- Structure Your Interaction. The best meetings follow a pre-agreed agenda distributed before the group comes together. Candid conversations are the same. Adhering to a standardised structure, and approach, which provides a view of the topics and/or questions to be covered, allows participants to relax into the content. Follow the general rule ‘start small’ and build behaviours.
Until everyone knows the basic ground rules, each conversation must be rigorously set up for success. It’s not just about using the same structure. Key phrases that cue participants, and set them at ease, must be developed and repeated. Boundaries must be set and enforced. This acclimates participants to shared expectations, and demonstrates that the rules, which allow everyone to feel comfortable, will be followed. It also indicates that there is a commitment to managing the conversational space, and therefore, everyone can relax and concentrate on the content.
- Start with the Question. The only way to have a truly spectacular conversation is to invite people to the table who 1) have knowledge of the subject, 2) want to share their views, even if they different from yours/others’, and 3) believe that the time they will dedicate to the conversation will be well-spent and rewarding. An enthralling question that entices your participant to explore the topic is an easy way to build momentum. Considering the WiifMs (What’s in it for Me) is an important element in crafting the question. An invitation with a riveting question, should answer, ‘Why is this so important to me… and to others?’ and ‘Why is it important to have this conversation now?’
- No Surprises. Candid conversations are not interrogations. They are not run by investigative journalists trying to surprise or catch someone off-guard. In fact, the better informed the participants are, the better the conversation will be. Previewing the question(s) and detail(s) is foundational to building a better interaction. Explaining why the topic is important, allows everyone involved to churn the topic around in their subconscious before they show up for the conversation. This ‘soak time’ ensures that even if someone doesn’t feel they have anything to add to the conversation, much of the time they are able to add quite a bit of value.
- Approach with Curiosity. A hallmark of KTCs is the acceptance – one might even say the celebration of interruption and disagreement – just like a conversation at your own kitchen table. Participants are encouraged to be gracious, but to disagree and to freely air different points of view. This light-hearted approach to divergence sends a message that all perspectives and viewpoints are welcome and valued. Approaching each assertion with curiosity doesn’t mean you must accept everything that is said. It does mean, though, that even if perspectives vary, a tone of curiosity, inclusion, and exploration should be the norm. This approach very quickly begins to permeate other conversations throughout the organisation and can create a step-change in the quality of dialogue and increase productivity. The key message in this approach is that the sky will not fall if you disagree… in fact, the sun might just shine a bit brighter.
Whether you are looking for a refreshingly new perspective about a situation, service, or product, or need to clarify information to resolve an existing problem, candid conversations can model constructive and confident behaviour that increases sense-making which invigorates and revitalise the organisation.