How To Have Clearing Conversations At Work


Tough conversations are a constant—and necessary—aspect of building a strong, connected, and diverse workforce. When you bring together different backgrounds, opinions, and priorities in the workplace, friction sometimes can’t be avoided. In a global study by CCP, more than 85% of employees cited experiencing conflict at work. So if disconnection is inevitable, how do we work towards clear and consistent conflict resolution?

A clearing conversation is an essential piece of a workplace resolution toolkit for companies that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We’ll explore what clearing conversations look like, how to have these important conversations, as well as tips and considerations.

What are clearing conversations?

A clearing conversation is an act of connecting with another person through conversation after an event that has created disconnection, and serves as a helpful tool to resolve everyday conflict or deeper-rooted trust issues. An event like this could look like a miscommunication during a 1-on-1, misalignment of expectations, or simply a disagreement. 

Clearing conversations can be short and to the point, or comprise a long process between just two people or a group. Differing beliefs and behaviors are expected when you foster a diverse environment. While these differences are at risk to be expressed through tension and irritation, the aim is to make space for conscious and production communication through a clearing conversation.

How to have clearing conversations

The Conscious Leadership Group outlines guidelines for having a fruitful clearing conversation. This model includes a straight-forward script for two people, explained in the below method. Curiosity and openness to learn is the priority in this technique—with the participants of the conversation willing to let go of needing to feel ‘right’ in the situation.

1. Present the conversation: In the Conscious Leadership Group method, one person formally asks another to have a clearing conversation. The initiator of the conversation is able to express the positive intent they desire for the relationship. In this way, both parties are in agreement to use a clearing conversation as a tool to work through whatever is causing the conflict.

2. Initial sharing: Assuming the receiver is willing, the initiator then shares the facts (unarguable details), stories (interpretations), feelings (emotions), and desires (intention moving forward) specific to the situation.

3. Listen and understand: The receiver then listens and seeks to understand, by repeating back what the initiator expressed as closely as possible—giving the initiator space to confirm or correct the interpretation. The receiver can truly understand the situation from the initiator’s point of view, and allows the initiator’s concerns to be heard and valued.

4. Optional role reversal: At this point in the conversation, the receiver may also have an issue they wish to clear. If so, they begin at the initial sharing stage and repeat the subsequent steps.

Things to consider when having a clearing conversation

To ensure a positive and effective outcome for a clearing conversation, all parties should align on a few specific principles. If each participant is on the same page, it’s more likely the conversation will produce lasting effects.

Positive intent: It’s important that anyone involved in the clearing conversation assumes the intent is positive, and that the other participant(s) is coming from a good place. Anchoring around this invites a collaborative, friendly environment in which to communicate.

Trust: For a clearing conversation to work, both initiator and receiver should trust both one another. Building trust starts with vulnerability. Set the example by sharing your emotions and help create a safe environment for you and the receiver to be open and honest. 

Psychological safety: For a clearing conversation to be successful, each contributor should feel mental and emotional ease in the situation. Feeling there is a psychologically safe space to share your true thoughts and concerns is paramount. This is a conversation that requires dialogue from both ends. Giving critical feedback isn’t easy—so participants must feel safe to actively communicate. 

The goal for any conscious, thriving workplace is to allow employees to be their most authentic selves. In creating a DEI-focused community, a mix of behaviors, mindsets, and points of view come to light. When friction and conflict arise between colleagues, clearing conversations allow for the issue to be addressed and resolved in a productive manner.

Baili Bigham is the Content Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Baili isn’t writing, you can find her binge-reading a new book or strategizing ways to pet every dog in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @bgbigz.

Image credit: shutterstock



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