Dealing with Dissent

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I can’t quite remember what topic we were being asked to work on. Something around how can we improve the quality of HR contributions of get folk engaged or improve process…..Huddled round a flip chart, about 12 of us, HR, L&D, People People, doing that awkward thing where we are kind of blurting out thoughts in the direction of the flip, in the hope the She Who Holds The Pen will capture the bones of what we just said.

I don’t know the group at all – we have been thrown together by a happy networking accident, but everyone is smart, senior, experienced and we are all there because we want to Be Better and want organisations, folk and work generally to be better. As a bunch, we seem to be interested, well intentioned and pretty well informed.

In all honesty, I get a little itchy in these processes, when I allow or encourage myself to think about what I’m up to….My dialogue training kind of demands there be a blend of inquiry, of questions and a push for clarity of perspective, right alongside the advocacy of putting out there what you think. In essence: if I’m allowed to just say the first few things that come to mind and no-one asks me to explain more; if no one challenges it with a different perspective, or builds on it with their own view; I have a sense I’m voicing into the void – no one is really there with me. I’m only partially being listened to. Dancing by myself in many ways.

Worse still, I’m getting away with broadcasting and not being held to account for my contributions… this is where groupthink happens. Or maybe not.. because we’re not really listening to each other, so we’re not groupthinking at all, are we?

Perhaps I’m feeling mischievous.
Perhaps I’m wanting to see what happens if I throw the conversational equivalent of a few wee firecrackers at the feet of our group.
Nothing too explosive, but enough of a noise to jolt us a bit.
Maybe I want someone to dance with….
Maybe I’m just a contrary sod at times.

On the flip paper there is lots of stuff about how we need to engage staff, mechanisms to improve procedures, cut through bureaucracy, get more power (seat at the table would help btw).
In a lull, I hear myself say “we need to listen to dissenting voices in our organisations. The ones who refuse to fill in surveys. The ones who are highlighting what’s wrong, whose voices aren’t captured.”

The pen pauses over the flipchart paper, but nothing is written.
There is silence for a second. The next voice says “You don’t want to amplify negativity, though”
Lots of nodding. Still nothing on the flipchart.
I try again – saying dissent is there for a reason – you can’t possibly know if it’s a valid reason or not in the first instance – but where there is criticism and dissent, it’s worth asking about it.
More silence.
The next voice says I am inviting opening a “whole can of worms”.
I say: “Yes. I get that. I am”

Still nothing on the flipchart and now everyone is looking at me.
Well… if you will throw firecrackers.

Please let someone join me. Please? Let there be someone in this group who will see that dissent is as vital as agreement.

I try again. ( babbling a bit – haven’t thought this out well……) When I worked in Middle Management and later in various project roles, I often knew stuff my Boss didn’t about what could/ would go wrong. I plugged into a network of naysayers because it helped me anticipate stuff I’d never dream of and it really challenged me to come up with better solutions.
(bit more relaxed now, I breathe:) There is, I offer, a reason for dissent. I”m not saying we need to do stuff with all of it, but I am saying listen to it or at least acknowledge it is there, inconvenient truth as it is…If someone says they are not filling in a staff survey because it is 100 questions long and doesn’t mean anything, that information alone might be nothing much… but if we ask more and find out that actually this is widely held to be true, surely we should act?

More silence.

The original voice says that their organisation does listen to complaints and issues, there is a mechanism for picking up gripes and concerns. It’s always the same people who use it – they are consistently just unhappy. You can’t give them time.

I can see the point of view and I want to ask more…..

The lady with the flip pen writes “listen to dissent sometimes” on the board and asks if anyone else has anything else.
Someone says something and it is flipped.
We hurriedly move on to safer territory.

Later, when we feedback our discussion to the wider group, the point about dissent isn’t mentioned and I smile to myself and yet I’m a bit annoyed….

I’ve thought a little about this vignette since it happened. The weariness, defensiveness and borderline fear that seems to come alongside dealing with dissent and negativity in our people systems. How dreadfully uncomfortable we are when we are disagreed with or challenged. How unwilling we are to inquire into the source of the dissent, it’s size or relevance. How we don’t want to capture it, talk about it, dealt with it. Easier, perhaps to just dismiss it out of hand.

Inevitably, folk will have differing viewpoints. I’m curious sometimes about the mechanisms we put in place to ensure these are quietly disposed of, removed, quietened down. In my map of the world, a healthy dose of questioning and scrutiny is kind of vital. As with any health dose – too much kind of tips thing over into “unhealthy” territory… but you get the idea

I worry sometimes about our Professional thinking – if our default on dissent is “don’t amplify negativity /keep closed the worm can” true conversations and lessons learned are over before they begin. That’s kind of stifling. it’s also a bit dull and arguably slightly dangerous.

To be clear, I’m not advocating a big “bring out your gripes, let me listen to all your woes”. I’ve worked with folk who could win the lottery and still complain it wasn’t the Euro Millions, I get that some folk are most satisfied when unsatisfied, of course I do.
I’m equally not suggesting everyone starts disagreeing stubbornly and fighting….

But I also know if we had paid due attention to the rumblings in an organisation or system about the car park/ findings in the report/ behaviour of That Manager/ Uniform dissolving in the wash/ unrealistic timescale for dealing with Customer complaint, we’d have saved ourselves a ton of time, money and (in one case) unwanted media coverage.

Dissent and otherness are there for a reason, usually. What happens when we acknowledge that and take action?

Happy Start Up Summer Camp – Reflections

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When Sarah Boyd tells me she has signed up for something and it looks AMAZING, I pay attention. Happy Start Up Summer Camp? Glamping in East Sussex at the end of summer with a bunch of smart, entrepreneurial folk who want to create happy, sustainable businesses? A weekend to listen to incredible speakers, reflect, learn & be? Oh. OK then. I’m in.

 

Part of this is fuelled by my own growing dissatisfaction with Conference formats and that seemingly pervasive belief that rigidity works best when getting large groups of people together to talk about business. I feel you just… sort of miss something when you button it all down. Playing around with the Unconference format for this week’s event in Glasgow meant designing it so people could properly meet and talk with each other without too much stuffiness – something I sense is increasingly important.

I’m thankful for the experience. It has been a long time since 3 days have so vastly impacted and inspired me – and this was due to a heady combination of people speaking from the heart and with passion, of sharing stories, of dancing & singing late into evenings and being encouraged to reflect. Thank you of course to the team who set it up and ran it, and beyond that to all those who supported them to make it happen – a vast network of people offering goodwill, energy and action.

I’ve picked some ideas and moments to blog about – these are no more or less important than any of the other moments over the weekend, but I trust they offer out a flavour of just some of what was offered and covered. I could write more – I probably will in the future… what I know is this: If I could have split myself in three or four at times, I would have gladly done so because there seemed to be a richness of stuff happening everywhere…. But I was where I was at any given moment and these are some of my reflections.
Read, mull, comment, investigate…..

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Reflection one: DreamBalls & Being Rich in Other Ways
Reflection two: The Need to Break Bread – Marketing by relationships
Reflection three: The 1,000 Day Manifesto

Good Will Huntin’

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Good will.
It has an organisational currency.
I understand it as the thing that means folk will stay a little longer, put a little more in, keep the place a little tidier, a sense of pride, of liking being here,  of choosing to put our time and energy in to something collective…. that stuff that is put under the heading “intangible”.
It’s a bit tricky to measure (although, if you’re an accountant, I believe there is a methodology of sorts) yet you can often sense it, feel it in an organisational context. If you work in a place that is operating with a fat dose of good will – you know it.

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Fighting Fog

6a015436eb4a84970c0192ac870d39970dThis blog has been a long time in the making.
There are times in my life and my work where I have the sense I’m fighting fog. Like somehow I’ve just lost a game I didn’t know I was in. Where I become aware that I’m feeling angry and somehow disadvantaged and I can’t quite work out how or where it has come from… where the rules of engagement seem to suggest everything is fine and normal and good – but my instinct is all is not right and I have an urge to kick back and bite…..
So when David D’Souza wrote his blog last Sunday on Sexy Women of HR– I found myself profoundly, almost comically angry… and I mean properly, arrestingly – WTF angry….. but I couldn’t quite find the words for or understand why.
And I’ve sat quietly with a question of what “that” sense of anger was…. and then a lot less quietly when I talked to David about the blog, my response, others’ responses… (In a highly emotional, pointy way after too much wine… Sadly my courage sometimes needs to be Dutch.)
Having processed it, what it comes down to, mostly, is this. There was something about the tone of the piece that made me furious.

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Learning more about L&D Connect – 20th Feb, Edinburgh

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Bringing the L&D Connect Unconference North is an experiment.

Last January, I went to an L&D Connect Event in London. It was organised by a group of Practitioners, Freelancers and Consultants who wanted to create somewhere for Learning and Development or Organisational Development Professionals to have the time and space to discuss the issues that matter most to them and their organisations. Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) describes the aims and intentions perfectly here.

I was invited by David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum)  part of the organising team and whose judgement I trust wholeheartedly. So I was curious.

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Working The Gap

Reading Sukh Pabial’s Blog  (@sukhPabial) post today, I thought it might be a good invitation to have a go at answering his “what am I for?” question.

I’m not getting existential in particular… It’s just I have been in a number of very good conversations of late about what this OD malarkey might be. I guess I’m also turning my mind to the upcoming  first Scottish L&D Connect event & sorting out my blog post for the next version of Humane Resourced where I’ll be writing more about my experience of working in an OD context (Hello to David D’Souza @dds180) .

I keep coming back to a drawing I sketched in Loudon’s bakery in Edinburgh, whilst talking with the deeply fabulous Julie Ashworth of Broadreach Consulting as we were processing out what we had just done.. Continue reading

Please?

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I was at  a Napier University Event at the Scottish Parliament last night – I’m alumni of Napier  and it  holds a special place as one of the four Universities in Edinburgh – much of the emphasis is on knowledge & research into practice –  linking students with commerce & work, but with an academic underpinning. It’s a model  that worked well for me when they put me on placement in HR at Russell Athletic and I was shadowed by an excellent HR professional, who really helped me see how the theory needs to be adapted and used lightly to fit with the reality of the HR Practice ( a Twitter conversation I sort of had with @HR_Cass recently about using SWOT & PESTLE lightly… anyway)

Professor Helen Francis is passionate about dialogue. Through Napier University business School and the Edinburgh Institute, she is looking to set up a cadre of practitioners that can work with big business and SME’s in Scotland to improve the quality of conversation, raise the capacity for holding difference and debate in the workplace and get a better working life for the majority of people in organisations. This is music to my ears. I attended her Professorial debut a few weeks ago where she mapped her research and thinking for the future and I got really enthused about what could be on offer here in Scotland. Helen used to tutor me when I studied my CIPD at Napier, back in the day and I have the utmost respect for her, so I sought her out at the Scottish Parliament event we attended last night.

We started talking Dialogue – what fuchsiablue is up to, what Napier & the Edinburgh Institute are up to – and  we reached a conversation about David Kantor’s 4 player model of conversation ( a foundation stone in some of the work we do – much like the GROW model in Coaching or SWOT in strategy). I’m fond of the Kantor model. I like it’s simplicity, it’s fluidity…. so I’m nodding as we talk about how this can be used….

and then we reach a point in the conversation where Helen is talking about a questionnaire and tool to help measure the extent to which folk move, follow, bystand….. and how we can use this tool to analyse conversation in organisations and offer gap analysis to Boards… and I  made this noise: ” nooooooooooooooooooo”  and then I blushed deeply…..

here was my response ( not all spoken out)

Please? Please not another tool to measure and analyse? Not another MBTI/ Here is your box solution?  Please don’t let’s keep going to Boards and pointing out the gaps? Please let’s not do this with Dialogue? My Dialogue is lively and human and contextual. My Dialogue depends on who is in the room, who speaks, who shuts up. It is dynamic and unpredictable. It is emergent and creative and connected and argumentative and edgy. As a practitioner, I want to be able to stand in front of Boards and say quite simply and categorically that you cannot measure the dynamic of a team. You can watch it and nurture it and nudge it and challenge it but you cannot quantify it.

this is about joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi, magic, chemistry – the chemical reaction you have in your body when you are angry or lit up. The chemical reaction I had in my body when I said NO and blushed to the roots of my hair at the boundary I’d overstepped.

Please? Can we just trust ourselves as human beings that we “know” intuitively, intellectually, emotionally – what is going on around us and whether that is right or wrong, with out a measuring stick or a sodding tick box?

And trusting ourselves, can we then go back to leaders and Boards and shareholders and say “you know what? this just doesn’t feel right”

Oh Lord… I can Hear John Lennon again…..

 

1st Anniversary

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At 15:09 on April 29th 2012, I posted the first ever fuchsia blue blog post.… ( I will always be indebted to Niall Gavin @niallgavinuk for nudging me to be brave & publish the thing that Sunday afternoon)

So I’m indulging myself in a wee moment of reflection. As I read back over old posts, I see  snapshots of moments in time – small glimpses  of my thinking – how some of that has moved on, how some of it has remained, how some of it has grown deeper and more solid.

Throughout the year, I have strived to be an authentic voice – blogging what I notice and experience, placing that into the virtual world with some care and hope that it will generate thought, comment  or pause, perhaps.

A massive thank you to all readers, contributors, supporters and challengers.

What next then?

See Blog post: What’s your Contribution?  Right now, I’m interested in curating stories and gathering folks’ contributions to the question:

“What is your contribution to being agile or adaptable in your work? What do you bring to your work conversations that is different or useful or necessary?

Please do drop in and comment – so far there are themes of being human, compassionate, honest, curious, appreciating difference, being able to challenge without harsh judgement, holding a lightness of touch and working with humour.

PS: Reasons I love the Twitter community: thank you  to Simon Heath @SimonHeath1 for the following Birthday Blog gift:

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The Marvellousness & the Minutiae – What do you bring?

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There seemed to be lot of interest and comments on this week’s blog post, which is always satisfying.

And there were some great examples of how people are contributing – what they are bringing to organisations or organisational conversations…..

and yet I find I want to re-press the point, ask again to see what comes back from readers of the fuchsia blue blog:

What is your contribution to being agile or adaptable in your work? What do you bring to your work conversations that is different or useful or necessary?

Are you innovative? Do your bring order? A good grip on data & measurements? Are you provocative? Political? Can you raise a smile in the midst of heavy conversations? Do you handle conflict well? Can you sit with difference? Is it good public speaking? Or the ability to have small, trust-filled conversations? DO you have a fantastic eye for commercial potential? can you tap into the “feel” of a conversation well? Do you bring compassion? Practicality? A particular interest?

I’m looking for the marvellousness and the minutiae. What do you bring?

I’m asking because I’m genuinely interested . I suspect your stories will be lifting. I suspect there are wonderful positive stories from people about what differences and contributions people are bringing to their work space.

I’m particularly mindful there were no comments from women, this week, other than via DM or conversation and I REALLY want to bring those voices forward, because I don’t feel I have and have a suspicion there is a rich narrative there.

and in case anyone is feeling self-conscious about stating their contribution, I offer Come To The Edge as an enticement

Come to the edge.

We can’t. We’re afraid.

Come to the edge.

We can’t. We will fall!

Come to the edge.

And they came.

And he pushed them. And they flew.

Guillaume Apollinaire

So. Friday/ Weekend invitation to bring your contribution stories here. I would, simply, love to hear from you.

What’s your Contribution?

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“We live in a “vuca”world….it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and it is being used as a short hand for what I think of as our new normal. In such a world, there has to be a huge premium for organisations that can understand and respond rapidly to changes or new trends by being agile and adaptable….” Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD, Welcome note in People Management magazine, April 2013

I read this editorial and was lifted and a little cynical all at the same time. Lifted at the acknowledgement of complexity and ambiguity in organisations, because I experience working in complex, adaptive client environments where politics, budget, tradition, culture, pace, apathy, enthusiasm etc all influence how well or badly something is delivered (if at all). Lifted also because the words agile and adaptable are appealing, somehow – they speak to me of a working environment which is functioning, healthy, where there is a swiftness and smoothness of movement and decisions, where folk can innovate where needed and this is seen as a good thing.

And I’m cynical for all the same reasons. As a consultant, I have the privilege of working with a number of different organisations and cultures simultaneously, so comparing and contrasting what is out there is kind of inevitable. On the whole? I’d say agility is altruistic and that my cynicism is founded in feeling the enormity of the task: How do we make whole organisations agile and adaptable?

In truth, I struggle to get my head round the “whole organisation” question. It feels huge. I’m not sure I can do much with a whole organisation ( Is there such as thing as an organisation? Hmm… another blog post, perhaps) – but I can work with people who will influence and shape their world. I can work to have conversations that can pack a punch across a business….perhaps that is the best anyone can do?

I’m thinking that, as we work in complex adaptive spaces, surely we need complex, adaptive responses? Yes, we need learning technologies and innovations that allow our businesses to be cutting edge and informed… but who will run and ensure that the technologies and innovations work? It’s people. Brilliant, bored, excited, stubborn, pissed off, playful, serious, awkward, destructive, creative amazing people.

What’s my contribution?

My response to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is that we must help people live, talk and work in that world well. But this made me think. What do I bring? What am I offering to the Organisational, UK plc, HR/OD/L&D conversation? If the call is being put out for those who will support agility and adaptability, what is my contribution to that?

I’m increasingly taking up a space that revolves around getting people to talk with more confidence and consideration in their day to day work. The Dialogue work I am so passionate about is compelling because it is so simple: in conversation you can advocate a point of view (in favour or against) or you can inquire into what is being presented (asking more, opening up thinking). You might think of it as tell/ask. You might think of it as push/pull. What happens though is there is a dance, a complex, adaptive, ambiguous conversational dance between the advocating & inquiring. We make tiny conversational choices (or great big old bold ones) to advocate or to inquire and these impact and influence those around us.

When you begin to understand your conversational dance moves, you feel more confident, more able to try new moves, more able to dance well with others. It is compellingly simple, elegant, complex and clumsy all at the same time.

Whether it is one-to-one coaching conversations, or group work using dialogue (and I’m about to risk bull sh*t word bingo here), my client work typically revolves around building people’s capacity to be resilient in the face of ambiguity and recognise their own brilliance and staying-power in environments that can feel hostile, volatile or confusing. You get individuals to see their worth, their contribution and the value they bring to the organisational party? You enable people to speak for or against a course of action with some clarity, confidence and conviction? Well then bring on the complexity and ambiguity, my friend, it will not faze.

What I bring is a little old fashioned – my stuff is about communication, talking, relating, being considerate and compassionate in the world. Oh and challenging well. Really well. Being able to put your opposition to an idea across with care and conviction so you are heard. Actually? Perhaps my stuff isn’t old fashioned… perhaps it’s classic.

My contribution to support living in a “vuca” world well and to the request to support leaders and managers to be rapidly responsive and agile, is a constant invitation to the people I work with to be “human” (see above – brilliant, stubborn etc) and to talk well with others. In order to work, my contribution also needs to be supported by those who can add technology in the mix, those who are creative, those who have the capacity to deal with data and finances brilliantly. I am part of the overall system – contributing and relying on others to support or challenge me. In a complex world, I don’t have a panacea or a simple answer( and nor does anyone else, Guru, Thought Leader or “Expert”).

I do, however, have a contribution to make in a “vuca” world.

And I’m interested. What is yours?

 

Further action :

fuchsia blue Exploring Dialogue Sessions are running May 8th & 9th, London

Please comment below or contact me if you want to discuss further.

Further reading :

David Rock’s work on Quiet Leadership (particularly the Dance Toward Insight chapters)

Ronald Heifetz, Martin Linsky’s work on Adaptive Leadership

Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science – example of writing here

David Bohm’s Dialogue work ( See article Dialogue: a Proposal here)