Denny Flanagan and Melburn McBroom are both airline pilots but that is where the similarity seems to stop.
Melburn McBroom was a domineering boss with a temper that intimidated those who worked with him. One day in 1978, McBroom’s plane was approaching Portland, Oregon, when he noticed a problem with the landing gear. McBroom went into a holding pattern, circling the field at a high altitude while he researched the problem. As he obsessed about the landing gear, the plane’s fuel gauges steadily approached the empty level. But his co-pilots were so fearful of McBroom’s wrath that they didn’t warn him about the limited fuel, even as disaster loomed. As a result, the plane crashed, killing ten people.
Captain Denny Flanagan, a pilot with United Airlines, relates to people with a drastically different approach. He believes he has an important role as a pilot to make flying a positive experience and takes action to demonstrate his conviction. He greets every passenger, holds contests on board for free prizes and sends handwritten notes to frequent flyers. Armed with a passion for making flying a pleasant experience, he has been known to buy hamburgers and bananas for planeloads of people on delayed flights. He makes it a point to call the parents of children traveling alone to let them know their child has arrived safely. As a result of his leadership, he is having a positive impact on other pilots and the members of his crew.
When leaders create an intimidating environment where people are afraid to speak up, they may not hear about trouble until it is too late. On the other hand, when leaders genuinely care about others and respect their views, they stand out and create conversations that inspire people to be their best.
Conversations Have Impact
I believe both of these pilots wanted to do the right thing, but their approaches to people resulted in dramatically different consequences. Likewise the nature of your conversations can have a profound impact on the people you influence. They can lead to a cycle of silence stemming from fear and intimidation or a powerful partnership founded upon authentic communication.
Domineering managers frequently approach conversations as a battle to win and the other participants as adversaries to be overcome. This results in Advocacy conversations where people argue for their position and hold a view that “I am right and others who disagree are wrong.”
When we express thoughtless certainty that we are right, we are unwilling to listen to diverse views. As a result, smart people make dumb decisions because they are unwilling to listen to bad news or hear alternative approaches to a problem.
Over time, people “go along to get along,” creativity dwindles, people withhold their true thoughts and a culture of Pretense becomes the norm. To determine if Pretense is occurring in your organization, watch what happens during and after a meeting. Do people speak up to voice dissenting opinions or do they just nod in feigned agreement? Do people move forward to implement the decisions that were made or do they meet in the hallway to have the “meeting after the meeting” where they express their authentic views of the situation?
Discover Common Ground
Authentic conversations create aligned action by identifying common ground among the diverse views rather than trying to convince people they are wrong. By discovering common intentions, rather than focusing on disagreements, people are able to identify a path for action that allows them to move forward together.
When conversations shift from protecting oneself to authentic appreciation of diverse views, people focus on making a contribution. People discern the facts, listen to each other’s views and look for creative approaches to problems. When people feel valued and safe to express their views, the quality of ideas improves. As a result, people are more engaged, alternatives are explored and results improve.
To improve the impact of conversations in your organization, begin with the following actions:
- Ask open-ended questions to uncover the facts.
- Create an environment where everyone is heard and it is safe to disagree with another’s point of view.
- Speak authentically – say what you mean and mean what you say.
- State your opinions as “one view” rather than the “right” view.
- Listen for alignment. As you listen to another, focus on what you agree with rather than listening to prove them wrong.
- Discover common ground by identifying shared purposes that can lead to aligned action.
The way we communicate with others has an impact on the results as well as the relationships we create. By choosing to work in partnership with others, you can be a leader who unleashes the power of conversation, where people can say what they mean and work together to achieve a common purpose. We all have an impact through our conversations. What type of impact will you have?
Concordia Consulting provides leadership development and coaching to support leaders and teams in developing the habit of authentic conversations.. For more information, contact Kareen Strickler at Kareen@ConcordiaConsulting.com.