Here at Impact we do a lot of talking – a lot.
But when we spend our working days going from meeting to meeting it’s very easy to fall into the trap of conversing less like human individuals and more like robots who have been programmed to have meetings with each other and to say certain things (I know you know what I mean).
In light of this, at Impact we try and talk deliberately and carefully. This is called intentional conversation, and it involves focusing on both a topic and our ability to collaboratively construct a dialogue. And sometimes, this leads to something remarkable: we begin to speak of things that cannot be said.
How is it possible to speak of things that cannot be said? The answer is that it isn’t, not exactly. But powerful and intentional conversations amongst people who are skilled in dialogue are works of art – and art is all about speaking of things that cannot be said.
What I mean is that there are things that are extremely important to us that exist beyond the mundane, day-to-day world of the meeting room, or the Zoom call. Often these are the things that make us cry even though we don’t really know why. Or they are the reasons why we find ourselves haunted by a book, moved by a view from a mountain, or compelled to keep a particular photograph in our wallet. These things also emerge in our frustrations; they derail us out of nowhere, and we find ourselves unable to let go of them despite their negative effect.
These are the things that make us human. They expose our most vulnerable selves, so we hide them. In organisations, too many obvious, important things aren’t voiced, even when the decision not to speak leaves us colluding with negative behaviour and bad attitudes. We need more truth-telling, honesty and directness, and less politics, swallowing our dignity, and denying our conscience. We need to create environments in which people can have the kinds of courageous conversations that truly drive business.
But courage is born from vulnerability – from letting ourselves be seen and voicing those subjects closest to our heart, those things that cannot be said. These difficult, human things are what make an organisation more than just a structure chart, a P&L or a marketing campaign. These are the things that make every organisation a unique community of people and an organisation worth working for.
Recently, someone said to me that all organisations are works of art. Initially I struggled with this idea because I am pre-disposed to seek beauty in art, and there are many organisations that are not beautiful. But beauty comes in many different forms and can only be experienced, not accessed through speech.
This is why creating the time and space to have powerful, intentional, skilled dialogue is imperative to successful organisations, communities and societies. These are the conversations that stay with us, that move us, that shift our understanding and that shape our actions. Because at the heart of every great conversation is the hard, courageous work of speaking of things that cannot be said.
When was the last time you had that kind of conversation?
Grahame Broadbelt is Global Head of Communication and R&D at Impact.