In Justin Bariso’s article about the right and wrong way to conduct a discussion, he points to the role that emotions play in persuading people to accept or reject your ideas. If, like a prosecutor looking for a win in a high-profile trial, you bombard people with facts and evidence, then there is a significant risk that they will feel threatened, become defensive and be closed to your arguments. This reaction will be amplified if you are in a leadership position. Bariso quotes Jen Dalton, CEO of BrandMirror, “Using facts to change someone’s mind just drives them to double down on their beliefs.” Dalton explains that the source of this reaction is the amygdala, the part of the brain that acts as an “emotional processor” and can overrule our rational thinking processes when we are threatened.
Allowing a discussion to end in acrimony without a good result is bad at the best of times but can be critical in novel and difficult circumstances. When your people are working from home and communicating by Zoom you may not even be aware that your ideas and facts are falling on deaf ears. In situations such as the current pandemic you cannot be totally confident in ‘facts’ that served you well in more normal circumstances. Dalton suggests taking a non-confrontational collaborative approach, sharing your understanding of a topic and drawing out the ideas of your people. They may know or have thought of things that had not occurred to you.
While this approach can yield positive outcomes and agreement on solutions to specific issues, it cannot scale to tell you what your people are thinking in general. Unless you have a very small team it is not practical to conduct individual discussions on a regular basis. Fortunately, technology exists that can quickly let you know how your people are feeling about the organisation. In many cases they will know long before you what the issues are. Using technology that acts as a Business Nervous System will give you time to address the issues before they cause major damage, as for example in the cases of Boeing and Volkswagen.