Managing Conversations: What’s Lurking in the “Background”?

As a manager, you are often tasked with influencing others and working to get your team “on board” with where your organization is headed.  Have you ever had the experience of communicating something to your team members and feeling like they may say they are “on board” but you just don’t feel they really are?  Sometimes there’s something not being spoken publicly that lives “in the background”.  This “background conversation” is comprised of all of the things that people don’t say publicly, but are concerned about. Background conversations are often made up of:

  • What we’re afraid to say
  • What we think is unacceptable or unpleasant to hear
  • What we think the other can’t or won’t hear
  • What might be politically incorrect 

These private or unspoken conversations often have more impact on what takes place than those things that are spoken publicly and if you are not aware of them, background conversations can foil your efforts. 

How can you manage the “background conversations? 

  • Consider possible concerns, issues or perspectives that people will have to what you are communicating.
  • Work to uncover the background conversations people might have by bringing up possible concerns and moving them from the background to the foreground so they are discussable publicly.
  • Start a conversation with something like, “Some of you may be wondering why”…. Or I bet you are thinking… as a way to uncover what is lurking in the background.
  • Ask questions and listen without defending your point of view. 

If you can start being aware of possible background conversations and begin to  manage them, then you will have the opening to create an environment where people feel safe to express themselves honestly and will engage more fully in working together to create the results you are seeking.