Bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations

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Things are getting worse!

In a recent coaching conversation, my client declared ‘things are getting worse’. Whilst acknowledging his progress in being more skilful and human in his leadership, he was experiencing more occasions of regret, discomfort, awkwardness or embarrassment about his interactions with others. For me, this indicates that things are getting better!

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Transforming conversations

In seeking to better explain the relevance of my dialogue-related work, I’ve been stimulated by a ‘Capability Accelerator’ programme offered by the International Futures Forum. The programme outlines practice-based frameworks for Transformative Innovation (Graham Leicester) and offers action-learning support to participants, who engage in a project over nine months.

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Conversation operating systems

Recently, I’ve been exploring how to better explain the relevance of my dialogue-related work, in which I draw attention to the relationship between the shape and quality of conversations and what happens next. Crucially, different ‘forms’ of conversation are more useful for some purposes than others. Therefore, it pays to understand how best to create the conditions for bringing about a particular outcome.

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Beyond words

Back in the day, I was a Director of Finance in the NHS. Long before I encountered dialogue practices, my deputy and I were preparing for an important meeting that she’d called. We had to gain support from a local peer group for a crucial development. We were expecting opposition. My colleague was very clear and animated about how to push our agenda through.

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Consider this…

Pause for Breath is five years old today! On Monday 4 July 2011, somewhat reluctantly, I held a launch party for this written manifestation of my dialogue-related work. I still find it hard to be visible in this way – to actively celebrate something I’ve produced. Yet I believe in the power of the practices in the book. I also believe that they, alongside similar approaches, are more necessary than ever before.

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Bare listening

I’ve been thinking (yet again) about listening, catalysed by two experiences:

resisting the four levels of listening of Otto Scharmer’s Theory U; and

● being drawn towards the premise of listening to connect, proposed in Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence.

As I pondered the roots of my aversion to one idea, and my attraction to the other, I changed my mind about both.

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The vision thing

In coaching supervision, a client was lamenting her lack of ‘a vision’ for her business. Two things flitted briefly through my mind:

• I’m not sure you’re strongly visual in your preferences; and
• who says we need a vision?

I let these thoughts slide by, as my client’s narrative unfolded along different lines.

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Dressing down

A recent swathe of adverse comments reminded me of an incident from my first job, in a merchant bank. After some initial training, I was placed in the treasury function. I speculate that this decision was based on my maths degree rather than personal aptitude! The dealing room was an alien world. Thankfully, some kindly-disposed ‘old hands’ helped me learn the ropes.

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Holding conversations

The more dialogue-related work I do, the greater my appreciation for the connection between the outcome of a conversation and the climate within which it’s held. By ‘outcome’ I mean not just the immediate ‘upshot’, but the impact of the conversation on relationships and the bigger system.

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Sounds of silence

Since my return from a silent retreat, I find myself talking a lot about not talking. The irony doesn’t escape me. While words can’t fully express the experience and impact of silence, I continue to explore how I might articulate its merit in embodying dialogue practices.

I’ve written about silence before – in my book, Pause for Breath, and in an article for Coaching at Work, about a visit to Bhutan. In the latter, I described silence as part of the landscape – a textural backdrop into which sounds seemed to fall and dissolve.

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