Years ago I heard a seasoned Head Teacher talk to some worried parents about how to have ‘difficult’ conversations with their young people.
Basically, it consisted of doing just about the opposite of what earnest, well-meaning, people might usually seek to do.
A top-tip was to get rid of the dishwasher.
You see, the trick was to appear not to be trying to have a conversation at all. The trick was to not focus on the other person, and not to attempt eye contact. The trick was to side –step the existing and tricky power structure between you both and to get into an easier and more natural ‘I and you’ pattern.
Washing up together created perfect conditions: attention appeared to be on another task, eyes were trained on a soapy water or soggy tea-towel – depending on who had drawn the short straw – and conversation became just about as casual and benign and enquiring as it possibly could.
So why do we throw this excellent advice out of the window when we are in our offices?
Why do we create squirmy and fear-inducing settings for the conversations that matter?
What might the washing up equivalent be at work?
Meetings are hard to abolish – but we could at least spend more time on ‘check ins’, or standing, or asking open questions of each other.
We could use images more often, and less self-consciously.
We could play with metaphors and fairytales to open a discussion, or to make our case, or to excavate issues that are worrying us.
A great way to start a team conversation is to elegantly by-pass the usual judgement/ compliance by using props and conversation-generating tools. Have a look at Packtypes. These excellent people will come in and help you navigate the trickiest of issues. It will feel like a speedy and benign journey of joint discovery.
And in the meantime? Some rubber gloves and a dish brush might be a good place to start.