Big Conversations Matter – How to Lead Them

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big conversations matter Big Conversations Matter   How to Lead Them

One of the success conditions for major positive change to happen in any organization or individuals is for everyone involved to face the truth, take an honest assessment of where they are right now. To do that, it’s crucial to have honest conversations where everyone takes stock of their current reality before moving forward. It’s not easy. They’re often very uncomfortable. But big conversations matter.

A big conversation is a conversation when stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions differed. Breakthroughs and big transformations hinge on such conversations.

Leaders can play an active role to facilitate these big conversations, both on individual and group settings. But here’s the tricky part. Leaders may become cautious to avoid honest, straight talk in order to avoid the conversation to turn unpleasant and the people involved get defensive.

The reason why we may be susceptible to avoiding big conversations is that we have been conditioned to converse in ways rooted in certain social or/and cultural virtues. From where I come from (Asia), we value virtues like respect (especially to the elderly and those being in authority), being nice, minding our own business, not upsetting people and keep the status quo.

Why Big Conversations Matter

The lack of courage to discuss the undiscussable oftens impede the progress of most teams to reach where they have not been before. They get stuck in a never-ending cycle of mediocrity and false improvements. No breakthrough there.

It’s common for organizations to put up defensive routines and make potentially embarassing and threatening feedback that is needed for growth and learning undiscussable. If you as a leader don’t change the way you faciliate team communication, you become an accomplice to the organization’s or individual’s defensive routines.

This applies not just to big organizations but small teams of any kind, including families.

How to Lead Big Conversations in 7 Steps

How can you make it safe for big conversations to happen, so that people are willing to discuss the undiscussable?

1) Common end goal – Set the tone. Let it be known that this conversation needs to happen as stakes are high. Focus on the common end objective that everyone is striving for. Get very clear on the purpose, intentions and goals. Discuss the whats and more importantly, the whys.

2) Grant permission – This is the basic ground rules. Create a safe forum that allows people to speak the truth, making it known that no one needs to be offensive or defensive about anything. Let it be okay for everyone to be their real self.

3) Take ownership – Make sure that everyone involved in the conversation have something personally at stake in the goal. Everyone has to take responsibility for what he says.

4) Don’t pretend – Let people say things as they really are. Don’t pretend things are fine when they really aren’t. Don’t smoothen any rough edges (not yet!) as they are useful information to deal with the challenges.

5) Bigger picture – This is an invitation for everyone to play a bigger game and see the greater cause, the bigger picture. Context matters. It’s not just about you or me.

6) Discuss the hows – Don’t just state the whats and the whys, but discuss the hows – specifically how the team thinks and interacts. Throw out some thought-provoking questions. Gather divergent views and perspectives to build a shared understanding and new workable model to move forward.

7) Ready to act – Make sure people leave the conversation feeling ready to take action. That will inevitably happen if they leave the conversation in 3 ways:

  • They feel inspired by a new-found freedom to express and be who they really are and everyone is okay with that
  • The feel empowered by new possibilities that they previously didn’t see
  • They see a clear path to move forward and are now ready to jump into action

Coaching Questions

1) Is there a big conversation that needs to happen in your organization/team?

2) What will happen if it doesn’t take place and things remain the way they are?

3) How can you lead such conversations and lead your people to greater heights now?

I didn’t say it will be easy. It’ll be worth it. Don’t play safe, take a little risk. Make it happen.

Let me know how it goes.


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  1. Stephen Murphy says

    Coach, you have no idea how timely this article is for me! While reading it I felt the nudge and encouragement to hold the “big conversation” with my boss and team that has been hanging for quite a while. I really needed this! Thank you!


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