Monday, June 6, 2011

The impact of one-on one

Intimate conversation by ngawangchodron
Intimate conversation, a photo by ngawangchodron on Flickr.

Catherine sat in the corner of the group, watching the discussion go round and round.  She didn't chime in - only observed and absorbed - even though the group was in conflict and she held some fairly strong views on the subject at hand.  Cathy didn't speak up because
  • She liked to think things through before opening her mouth.  She preferred to have her contributions fully formed.
  • She wasn't particularly comfortable in front of groups.
  • She wasn't completely confident that she could trust the other people in the group.  Cathy had a "history" that wasn't completely positive with one participant in the discussion.
Catherine's contribution is important to this group, and the barriers that are stopping her from participating fully are readily overcome.  Sometimes only one-on-one will do in conversation.  And when you are the leader or the facilitator of a group discussion it's your responsibility to identify the situations where you need to generate head-to-head conversation.  Dyads (two people) talking help in situations where:
  • The group contains varying levels of experience and authority, so the environment has a high potential for discomfort for the participants.  This isn't to say that people should never be uncomfortable, only that when their input is important and they don't speak up you don't have a good work product.
  • The group is populated with quieter behavioral styles.  Some people don't like to be in front of groups.  Or they might need very focused questions in order to draw out their thoughts.
  • Situations where negative energy is abundant.  The "ain't it awful" conversations, when broadly shared, magnify the impact of the message.  If you are trying to move the group forward, you can contain the impact of the negativism by isolating it into two-person pockets.  You know that you need to hear more than hearts and flowers to solve problems - this isn't about editing out the bad stuff.  The negative emotion associated with the discussion can be minimized by not inadvertently creating a venue in which it can spread - like wildfire.
  • When you have overcontributors in your group.  Some people think out loud, and others are simply strong personalities who like to hear the sound of their own voices.  Their one-on-one gives them a lot of air time without detracting from the opportunity for everyone else to talk.
  • Situations where you need to boost the energy.  When you have a larger group discussion, at any one time only 5-10% of your participants are actively engaged - sometimes even less.  In a dyad, half of your group is actively involved, so the energy in the room grows.
  • When you need to compress the processing time.  Taking turns to talk consumes time.  And in larger group settings one comment can lead to a rabbit trail which can in turn lead to a wild goose chase.  You can give a set of partners a list of questions, and handle them efficiently.
  • Situations where you want to personalize the content.  The questions revolve around the participants describing themselves in ways that they might perceive as bragging - something a lot of people are taught from an early age not to do.  It's easier to go there when there is an audience of only one.  In addition, dyads create more individual accountability because nobody can readily hide in the corner like Catherine did in the example.
The facilitator or leader's internal challenge in using one-on-ones more often is that if you're not part of the dyad you won't be controlling the conversation.  That doesn't go down very easily for some leaders, especially in high conflict, high tension situations.  But if you're trying to turn the ship as it were, dyads enable you to have multiple co-pilots - and the extra engagement enables you to turn the ship more quickly.


Lynn Marie Caissie said...

Julie, you have revealed here what I often have witnessed (or provoked) in meetings, and didn't know how to fix. Thanks for providing the dyad solution to some of these problems.

Julie Poland, certified business coach said...

Lynn Marie - Thanks for your comment. It's easy to get into a groove with meetings and other gatherings, and sometimes not so easy to be "outside" of the situation and choose to do something differently.