Successful Change Uses the Four Conversations

Successful change depends on the use of the four conversations.  I recently led an MBA course on Leading and Managing Change to a group of practicing managers in which they were required to produce an “impossible change” – one that was currently well beyond their position and capability to produce.  In other words, they couldn’t “just do it”, but needed the assistance and cooperation of others.  At the end of the quarter, 75% of the class successfully produced their change.  And what was the secret to their success?  Their effectiveness in using the four conversations.

As one manager explained, “It is my assessment that the success of my change has been a direct function of the choice, use, and content of the conversations I used to communicate with members of my team to adequately illustrate the shared value of the desired future state I believed we could achieve.  I feel it is important to highlight the power of utilizing a well-placed closure conversation to establish my credibility with the Senior Bankers that comprised my team.  Upon the onset of my initiative, it was evident that many of the Senior Bankers were experiencing fatigue and frustration with the ongoing efforts to support the merger of Their Bank with Our Bank.  By connecting with these individuals through the use of closure conversations, I made a concerted effort to acknowledge the additional time and effort that they have already contributed to making the merger a success. Prior to this acknowledgement, the majority of the Senior Bankers were of the belief that few individuals “truly” understood how requests of their time to complete merger related tasks negatively impacted their ability to complete their regular job assignments.

“Providing the Senior Bankers with this recognition of their  efforts allowed many of them to move past their feelings of resentment towards being asked to accommodate a change in the way they conducted a profit analysis of  corporate clients.  Giving this recognition fostered my ability to successfully propose my initiative in a manner that enlisted their active support for the desired future state instead of exacerbating their previous state of dejection towards new demands on their time.

“I discovered the value that can be produced through deliberately planned conversations with the individuals whom I hoped to enlist in the support of my change.  This willingness to place faith in the success of my change as a product of communication allowed me to view the concept of a “conversation” as something more than interpersonal discourse.  I began to view the four conversations as a tool to be used to deliberately manage the evolution and direction of my change . In recognizing these conversations as a tool to be used in implementing of my change, I was able to view myself as a manager of change from the perspective of a “facilitator of action” rather than as an authoritative figure who viewed the accomplishment of  change as a function of ordering an action and expecting a corresponding re-action.”

Communication is key to the accomplishment of change, but not any communication.  As this manager illustrates, successful change is a product of using the appropriate types of productive conversations.

Our Book in Chinese

We recently received three copies of our book, The Four Conversations: Daily Communication that Gets Results, from our publisher and they were in Chinese (see photo).  What a treat to see how something you wrote looks in another language!  A colleague of mine has had several of his textbooks translated into other languages, but none of them are in Chinese – he is jealous.  Looking though the book is really strange because you can’t tell what any of it says.  I will have to ask one of my MBA students who speaks Chinese to tell me what the cover says.

Understanding the End Game

My daughter and I recently visited my mother at her home in Kentucky.  My mother is 89 (will be 90 early next year) and is concerned about who will “pay her bills” (take care of her) in the remaining years of her life.  It was an invitation for an understanding conversation, which my daughter and I accepted.

Like many people her age, my mother can’t really imagine that she won’t always be a fully functioning adult right up to the end.  So she hasn’t really considered her options, what they involve, who could assist her, where she might go, etc. – all the things that understanding conversations consider.  So over lunch, we talked about what some of the options and some of the down sides.  Since understanding conversations are two-way interactions, we listened to her concerns, objections, and questions, not to dismiss or resolve them, but to fully understand them.  There were times in the conversation when neither she nor I liked or agreed with what the other had to say.  But understanding conversations aren’t intended to convince the other side or to get your way, they are intended to have people understand what is involved in accomplishing something of interest to them.

As a result of this conversation, I now understand more about my mother’s concerns and what needs to be taken into account moving forward.  My mother also knows more about her options and at the end of the visit thanked me for helping her come up with a plan for who would pay her bills.  We will need more understanding conversations before we get to the point of taking action, but we have begun and though it may be frustrating, the conversations are important for understanding how she wants to complete her time here.

Closure Conversations Repair Relationships

Good working relationships are essential to getting work done and to a satisfying work place.  But what can we do when relationships turn sour?  You could have a closure conversation with the person.

One of the managers in my Mastery in Execution class had a very poor working relationship with a woman at work and it was affecting his work.  As he reports it, “She does poor work and it is frequently late.  I can’t count on her and her failure to do the work is costing me.  Do you have any recommendations for what I can do to make her do what she she is suppose to?”

As we talked, he revealed that because he did not particularly like the woman, he didn’t interact with her the same as he did with others with whom he had a good relationship.  He mentioned that he tended to be more abrupt and less engaging with her, simply telling her what he wanted rather than really taking the time to talk to her.  Additionally, he was dismissive of the reasons she gave for not getting things done and got quickly frustrated when she failed to perform.

Based on what he said, I proposed that he could have a closure conversation with her in which he (1) acknowledge the breakdown in their relationship, (2) apologize for how he had interacted with her and the impact it must have had on her, and (3) express his interest in building a more effective working relationship with her.  Not surprising, he was very hesitant about having such a conversation and said “I don’t think I can do that or that it will work, but thanks.”

Several days later, the manager approached me after class and reported “I had the closure conversation with the woman I told you about.  It was hard for me to do that, but it really did change things between us.  She told me she knew I treated her differently than others, but didn’t know why and that she too, wanted a better working relationship.  It turns out that she frequently didn’t understand my directions and didn’t feel like she could ask me for clarification.  I was shocked because I thought I was clear!  Anyway, we agreed I would take more time to explain what I wanted and to help her when she has problem or questions.  Things are already much better, thanks.”

Have a relationship that is not up to what you would like it to be?  You might consider having a closure conversation with them.