Dialogue Coaching Call: Reflecting on Suspension

During a call today, I was a dialogue coach for someone reflecting on suspending judgments during employee evaluations. She’s hoping to transition her evaluations into moments focused more on inquiry than debate. Suspension has proven difficult for one employee who routinely reacts defensive, re-enforcing prior conclusions. However, to improve understandings and cultivate a more collaborative work environment, she feels it’s important to persist at suspending judgment.

Listening, mirroring, summarizing

To build a culture of inquiry, we must slow down and discover methods to transition every member away from argumentative attitudes.

At first, I listened. She believes evaluations should leave employees motivated to improve their work ethics and talents. As for the difficult employee, she says he’s great at his job. But he reacts tough to supervisor’s reflecting on his performance. She views his defensive demeanor as a challenge to offering herself as a resource for his professional development. What’s more, he frequently voices his critical leadership expectations among coworkers, as well as his contempt for past supervisors. To build a culture of inquiry, we must slow down and discover methods to transition every member away from argumentative attitudes. As I listened, I mirrored and summarized her situation, helping her better understand it. What’s motivated him in the past? When are their conversations most generative? What lessons do those preferred interactions teach us about his needs?

Questioning

Throughout my questioning, we identified possible roots to his tough talking attitude. She identified that he’s most generative when dialogue focuses on solving problems. As a creative thinker, he may feel marginalized as one of the only employees missing collaborative team meetings, due to conflicting work hours. By missing the meetings, he may feel compelled to construct other opportunities to impart his ideas, such as evaluation discussions or breakroom gossip. She feels there’s also the possibility of a cultural conflict, where he’s biased toward female supervisors. How can she best expose her assumption to test its validity? If it exists, how do we lead him toward suspending such judgments in the workplace?

As his supervisor, she says offering new perspectives helps ease tensions. She often builds it by asking questions. But she also believes that moving beyond debate, toward more reflective dialogue, will require time. Eventually, they’ll establish a greater sense of trust, a more vulnerable environment for discussion. Since her focus seemed entirely on him, I questioned if she also needed to feel safer to suspend her own judgments. While she feels leaders require a thick-skinned attitude, she found value in building a reciprocal sense of respect. When all actors experience a safer environment, everyone is preparing to suspend their judgments, unlock the doors to reflective dialogue and emerge as a collective intelligence.

Catalyzing

To catalyze the conversation, I empowered her to transform their relationship. I suggested that finding a solution that creates empathic listening within difficult people would prove important to her professional development. She had recognized his appreciation for her attempts to act as a uniquely hands-on supervisor. Knowing that, we identified the possibility of exemplifying other means of leader innovation. Perhaps performance appraisals would become more generative outside of her office, on more neutral ground. What’s more, maybe he’d become more receptive of discussions held at a round table, instead of the traditional face-to-face positions. Moreover, she’s going to re-examine her schedules to find ways to ensure he’s included in team meetings.

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