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The Spectrum of Dialogue

A number of times in my coaching practice I have worked with clients who are nervous about speaking out, perhaps through lack of confidence, a concern that their views won’t be taken seriously or sometimes due to their behaviour preferences – they are simply happy to take a quieter role in the team. However, most modern working environments are ones where the loudest and most vocal are the ones who get noticed, so this reticence to speak out can be a genuine hindrance for people who want to move on in their careers.

Such clients in senior roles often get feedback that they need to speak their opinions more clearly and to push back more – in fact this can be the sole reason for their coaching. When exploring this with clients, it often transpires that they have been taught that speaking up is on a par with being rude or disrespectful; these people are often used to playing the listener role in their teams. So how can they develop their thinking to enable them to push back to peers and even managers to help them move on?

Working with such a client recently, we identified that he considered anything other than acceptance of the other person’s opinion as a possible confrontation; that by putting forward an alternative view he may be seen as difficult. This seemed a strong view so we unpicked it further and as a result identified the Spectrum of Dialogue, a definition that there can be many ways of communicating viewpoints, most of which are far from confrontational.

The Spectrum of Dialogue starts off with a simple response; for example, I acknowledge your view and agree with it. It then moves to stating your point; for example, I acknowledge your view but my view is different, it is …. The next is to ask questions to understand the other person’s view; for example, please can you explain why your view is the right one? What evidence do you have to support this view? Such questions allow you to understand the other person’s view, so they can genuinely convince you. Without this how can you change your mind? And how can they change theirs?

Sometimes though there is a need to be more firm. So, the final stage of the spectrum is challenge; where you stand your ground and make a statement that your view is the one to be followed; good leadership sometimes calls for firm decisions by the person who is in the position of authority, so challenge and firmness can often be fully justified.

Spectrum of Dialogue diagram

Defining the client’s conversations and discussions in this way, empowers them to see that they can have an opinion without being seen as difficult. By stating their case or asking questions to better understand the other person’s viewpoint they are simply being professional and inquisitive.

I’m delighted to say that not only has the client put this in to practice but he’s recently been promoted to a more senior management role! This was a small part of the excellent work that he does but certainly helped him to push back and stand his ground, as was expected of him.

So how can the Spectrum of Dialogue help you to be clearer in your communication to get what you want? Could it help you to justify why you are due for a promotion or ready to take on new work? Don’t forget, you will be asking in the nicest possible way!

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The coaching has made a massive difference to the way I work and I have enjoyed it immensely.
Joanne Smith
Strategic Account Director
Timico Technology Group Ltd