She looked at me quizzically and said: “What a breath of fresh air! The conversation we just had, you know.”

“What did you like about the conversation?” I asked.

“Well, we don’t usually speak like this at work. Straight talk about what we really think and even feel about decisions. Today we got to speak our mind, yet weren’t uncomfortable and overly serious about it. I usually hate meetings and yet I could be in meetings like this all day!”

What this young technician experienced was a big dose of “genuine” in the setting of a tough group conversation. She was pleasantly surprised by the direct questions that were respectfully asked, and the direct answers that were delivered with poignancy and humour. The atmosphere was cheerful, yet the topic was serious.

So how did the meeting organizers create the right conditions for participants to express themselves in earnest? Wasn’t the topic the dreaded transformation project, the one that could impact their jobs, their careers, their motivation and self-esteem?

Up until now, reactions to this complicated project fell into one of two (default) categories:

  1. Deny its existence:  The project won’t change anything. Other people may have to adjust, but not our group. We’ll be just fine.
  2. Criticize it loudly:  We’re finding fault in every aspect of this crazy project. All the more reasons not to get on board. After all, we know very well that most of these projects fail anyway. Let’s stop wasting time and resources.

Sounds familiar?

How to free up the genuine group conversation

Here’s how we opened the window and let oxygen into a very tense group dynamic with a series of genuine conversations conducted over several sessions.

  1. Acknowledge feelings… all of them. Include the good, the bad and the ugly without ridiculing or downplaying what participants are experiencing.
  2. Resist branding individuals and groups as “resistant”. Strong feelings indicate that they care!
  3. Ask open-ended questions, with empathy and curiosity. Seek to understand their perspective.
  4. Listen, listen, and listen some more.
  5. Remember: communication is a two-way street, more than just an information session.
  6. Encourage ideas on moving forward: Where do we go from here? What else is possible?
  7. Get their input, early and often.
  8. Be honest and acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. Adjustments will be needed along the way.
  9. Treat them like the intelligent beings they are with the power to adapt and innovate.
  10. Ask them what they need to move forward and what you can do to support their transition to the new.
  11. Remember to work team by team. One-size doesn’t fit all.
  12. Follow-up and keep every commitment you make, both small and large. You’re (re)building trust in a changing environment. Every word and action counts.

In my experience, genuine two-way conversations create goodwill, increasing your chances of success with teams in times of change. Remember that most group members want to positively contribute to the success of the organization. It’s also important not to take their acceptance of the project for granted.

Genuine exchanges free people up to be engaged and creative. When these conversations are held regularly, they lead to a shared understanding and ultimately to higher levels of performance. Isn’t it worth the investment?

Tell me more about how you engage a group in genuine conversations, particularly in times of change.


Photo by Lydia Brooks / CC BY-NC-ND

2 thoughts on “How to Open the Window to Genuine Conversations in A Group”

  1. HI Dominique,

    One, whom we both know, has often said that 30 seconds of authenticity can undo a lifetime of pain, suffering disease and limitation. I have come to know that as a resounding truth in/for my own life. Authenticity creates and sources rapport; rapport ignites and sustains healing in all systems. How does it get any better than this?!

    Your post is a great reminder of what is possible when the intention for engaging with Self and with Other is always: Be Your Self and Speak Your Truth, as you experience your own unique life. Thank you!

    1. Dominique Dennery

      Thank you Sheila for sharing your wisdom. I know you as a gifted healer and love the way you connect healing human systems with authenticity. Definitely resonates with what I see every day as I engage with others one-on-one or in groups. Truth does set you free… in any human context.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top