Conversations & Decisions
Most organizational decisions are born in conversations. Since we’ve all been having conversations since we learned to talk, it’s tempting to assume that we’re all experts. In reality, not all conversations are equally effective or productive. The consequences of an ineffective conversation — lack of clarity, hurt feelings, bad decisions — can be severe.
The good news is that having good, productive, clear, and efficient conversations depends on skills that can be taught and practiced. That’s why each staff member at Fractured Atlas participates in Crucial Conversations training.
Another part of having fruitful conversations is understanding that not all conversations are alike. Sometimes we think we're having one type of conversation with someone only to realize in retrospect we were each having a different one. When you find yourself with a conversation mismatch, it can be helpful to reference this Conversational Capacity framework.
4 Types of Conversations for Decision-Making
Remember, the most important thing is to be clear and upfront about what type of conversation you're having. Any of these is potentially legitimate in any situation, but problems arise when participants have different understandings about which set of rules applies.
Type One: In a Type One conversation, the leader begins the meeting having already made a decision that will not be revisited during the meeting. Rather, the purpose of the meeting is to communicate that decision, and provide others with an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.
Type Two: In a Type Two conversation, the leader begins the meeting by presenting a hypothesis that serves as a presumptive decision. The purpose of the meeting is to interrogate and challenge that hypothesis. The leader should avoid driving that process, instead aiming for personal passivity and an open floor for others to poke holes in the proposed solution. The leader may and should answer clarifying questions. At the end of the meeting (or at some future time), the leader makes the decision, either sticking with the initial hypothesis or modifying it based on challenges raised by the group.
Type Three: In a Type Three conversation, the leader presents a question or issue and invites open discussion on the topic. At the end of the meeting (or at some future time), the leader makes the decision, informed by the group's input and ideas.
Type Four: In a Type Four conversation, the leader presents a question or issue and invites open discussion on the topic. At the end of the meeting (or at some future time), the group collectively makes a decision (by consensus, majority vote, etc.)
Uh, what about other people's decisions?
Related to the Conversational Capacity framework is the importance of distinguishing between input and feedback - whether you’re requesting it or providing it. Input is given before a decision is made in realistic hopes of influencing the decision. Feedback is given after a decision is made in the realistic hopes of influencing future decisions.
We're an opinionated bunch at Fractured Atlas and rarely shy about sharing. This is a good thing! Just look back at a few of our core values: #SeekImprovement and #EmbraceChallenge. Whether we see a wall and think, "I love that wall color," "I hate that wall color," "I prefer more walls," or "I’d rather be working in an open field," we aren't shy about expressing their thoughts. And the organization is stronger when it can incorporate ideas and experiences from many different perspectives.
As we grow, not everyone can provide meaningful input on every decision or initiative — there are far too many of us and far too many decisions that fill our days. However, everyone can provide feedback, which hopefully informs future decisions, whether related or not. Thoughtful feedback that is delivered in a respectful manner will always be heard and appreciated.