(dis)Functional Dialogues

John Henken | July 18, 2017

Dialogue (noun): A discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.

The media has possibly never been more concerned with dialogue…or more specifically…the lack of it! For all the “talk” that fills our modern world, there seems to be fewer meaningful conversations occurring. This is not a political blog… but I believe that while we are talking more and reaching far wider audiences…we are largely NOT having focused and civil discussions centered on advancing the resolution of problems or processes.

Typically, we err on two fronts; we either talk louder than the other party (and don’t listen) or withdraw quietly (and don’t speak our mind!). Both actions cripple us. True in politics. True in business!

We seem to have lost the ability to have constructive conversations that build understanding, deepen relationships, and result in actionable and aligned “next steps”. Functional dialogue is key to moving any human effort forward. Without it, projects either move at a snail’s pace or not at all!

Face to face marketing thrives on dialogues. Meaningful conversations. Persuasive engagements. Successful marketing starts with listening to your customer. Identifying their needs, Anticipating their wants. Delivering products and services that make good on our promises.

As a Designer and Creative Director of nearly thirty years, driving functional dialogues has been a big part of my tool box. My job is first: to listen fully and with an open mind. Second: to absorb what I have heard and then apply my design background and industry experience to form a considered opinion. Third: to speak my mind honestly and respectfully and offer constructive, operable direction that moves the project forward with a positive outcome.

Simple as that. But difficult to consistently achieve. To get the full value of our creative team…our clients need to be bravely honest with us, while keeping an open mind about the creative we share. Creative directors and Account persons need to be honest (sometimes, brutally honest!) with our creative team. It’s a process of praise and confrontation.

Here though, are some actions I have found helpful:

  1. Listen more and talk less. Great ideas can come from all corners. If you are talking instead of listening you may miss something that could be game changing!
  2. Balance support with criticism. No one is always wrong. And neither is anyone always always right! Celebrate what resonates with you in other’s ideas…and then lead in with constructive, on-point criticism. [First the sugar…then the pill!]
  3. Say (exactly) what you mean and mean (exactly) what you say. Speak respectfully…but don’t hold back. Complacency is the father of mediocrity.
  4. Both give and take. Projects need your direction…but they also need your teammate’s ideas and energies. It cannot be a democracy…nor can it be a dictatorship.
  5. Allow the time it takes to achieve resolution and understanding. [We all struggle with this part!]
  6. Apply and repeat. Consistently!

To paraphrase the adage: “It takes a village to raise a great experience.”

Let’s pull the villagers together and have functional dialogues. Let’s agree to a considered plan. Let’s link arms and get it done!

Our business depends on it.