The Benefits of a Messy Conversation

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Not everyone on your team will agree all the time and sometimes a messy conversation is necessary to resolve the issue. By Beth Bierbower (President, Employer Group Segment, Humana)

I have a confession to make. I enjoy “messy” conversations. Over the years, I’ve discovered that some topics fail to be explored deeply enough because the participants either don’t feel safe expressing their opinions or the meeting structure and facilitation process aren’t conducive to this type of discussion.

A messy conversation involves frank (and sometimes heated) dialogue, requires participation from all attendees and at the end, those involved make significant progress as a team in moving an initiative forward or making a cultural change. The format must allow for a deep dialogue on the specific topic while being careful that the conversation does not veer off track. For example, if you are seeking agreement on a concept, you’ll want to make sure that the attendees refrain from diving deep on specific tactics. You may also have to push the participants to go deeper in discussion to ensure you are thoroughly exploring the concepts.

The messy conversation approach should be used sparingly because they are not effective for the majority of meetings. Overuse will result in the inability to productively manage meetings. For example, a typical staff meeting focused on updates, and requiring decisions where consensus can be easily achieved is not the place for messy conversations. I find myself encouraging messy conversations when the topic is ambiguous and/or sensitive and needs to be thoroughly vetted.

Messy conversations can’t take place without complete trust. Ensure that the team has a safe environment, agree that the conversation stays in the room and reinforce that commitment when someone slips. I like to touch base with individuals after a messy conversation, thanking those who have been bold enough to raise a sensitive topic and encouraging others who demonstrated progression in their thinking.

Why not give a ‘messy conversation’ a try and see if it doesn’t lead to some deeper consensus and alignment on your team.

Speak loudly, step boldly!

This post originally appeared on the author's blog

Do you agree that messy conversations can occasionally help a disagreement? Why or why not?


About the guest blogger: Beth Bierbower is President of Humana’s Employer Group Segment, with responsibility for driving the growth and profitability of Humana’s employer group products including Medical, Specialty, Group Medicare and Wellness and Productivity offerings. Under Beth’s leadership, the Employer Group Segment is evolving into an organization that helps employers improve the productivity of their workforce. Beth is also a member of the Executive Team, which sets the strategic direction for the company.