How to Speak your Mind

Published on 27th July 2017 in Leadership

Do you speak your mind?

Picture this scene. You have just joined a new team and you are sitting in one of your first team meetings. The atmosphere is positive. Somebody comes up with a proposal that you just know is highly unlikely to succeed.

What do you do?

  • Spend 5 minutes unloading on the topic. Setting out your case and sharing your personal experience to explain why this will fail?
  • Or, you go with the flow. You don’t want to rock the boat. You find yourself sounding positive and say that, the idea ‘has real potential’. You might mention that there could be some ‘speed bumps’. But, when questioned, you play this down. Why spoil the atmosphere?

What is going on here?
Most of us are adept at hiding our thoughts and feelings when we think it necessary.

This self-censoring means that we are not truly speaking our mind. This can become so automatic that it becomes an engrained habit.

Most of our work environments do not afford us or encourage us to display such authenticity, but rather encourage the withholding of such openness in the name of being positive.

Yet it is precisely this so called “negative” information that is critical for helping people work together to solve problems. One way to understand how you are censoring yourself is to use the Left Hand Column model developed by Harvard Professor Chris Argyris.

The Left Hand Column

When we are having a conversation, we are often actually having two conversations — the audible one we hold in public — the right-hand column — and the silent one we’re having inside our heads — the lefthand column. Here’s an example

3 Options to deal with our Left Hand Column

This type of conversation is common– we don’t say what is really on our mind and as a consequence end up with an unsatisfactory outcome. Some people have become so accustomed to burying their true concerns, they just accept that this is the way to behave. This does not have to be the case. We typically have 3 options for handling our Left Hand Column.

  1. Dump it. Unload on the other person(s) in what can be seen as an irrational and emotional outburst. Embarrassing to ourselves and to the others
  2. Bury it. Hold on to it and not express it all, which can lead to stress and growing tension in the relationship
  3. Process it. Share your opinions and concerns, and explore those of the other person(s).

How to Process your Left Hand Column

1)Share your Left Hand Column

  • Share the concern that makes this opinion significant to you.
  • Present relevant facts and reasoning.
  • Project consequences and suggest concrete actions.

2) Explore the other person(s)’ Left Hand Column

  • Listen with an open mind and don’t interrupt
  • Inquire about the other’s concerns
  • Ask for facts and reasoning
  • Request concrete suggestions and find out how they’d take care of concerns
  • Summarise to check your understanding

Key Messages

  • Processing our Left Hand Column (as opposed to dumping or burying it) can lead to more constructive business outcomes and more trusting relationships.
  • When we explore and constructively express our Left Hand Column, we can get better results from conversations.
  • Effective use of the Left Hand Column can help us improve our relationships. It supports acting with integrity and thus building trust.

Top Tip

Explain this model to your colleagues. Once more people are aware of this, it will become very easy to simply ‘Share your Left Hand Column



What next?
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