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Tips for holding authentic conversations with your team

Kathleen Redmond for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2020

Life has never felt more ambiguous. If there ever was a time to know what your team members are thinking, it is now. Some people might actually enjoy a hermit-legislated lifestyle.

Others are restless, anxious and even despairing in the hope that things go back to “normal.” They need your leadership and support.



What can leaders do to support their team? Be authentic by truly communicating with them. Whether your team is composed of your family or a diverse group of people, helping others is critical not only to enhance effectiveness, but if someone is struggling, to access resources to help them.

Here are some of the tips gathered from research and a series of webinars held with leaders over the past few months:

1. Meet with the team often and regularly. Whether you are physically gathering people or meeting in other ways, touch base and clarify the requirements of the day or week. Keeping people focused on tasks helps manage ambiguity.

2. Leadership in a time of crisis demands different approaches than “business as usual.” Leaders need to be seen as confident and find a way to identify and reap learnings in order to be future focused. Team members take emotional cues from the leader.

3. Recognize the people who are contributing in specific, concrete and innovative ways. Encourage the team to recognize each other.


4. Share risk by getting in the trenches and doing the most demanding, difficult jobs to establish not just your competence, but your concern for them as people.

5. Check in with individuals regularly. One-on-one conversations are a powerful way to clarify expectations, offer feedback, track progress and build trust.

Timely questions for one-on-one meetings:

  • How is this situation affecting you?
  • How are you coping?
  • What question(s) can I answer for you?

These are coaching questions – they are open-ended and require more than a “yes” or “no” response.

Listening without judgment, interruption and argument are elements of “good character.” And according to character and engagement research, we want leaders who fit that description.

A tool for listening actively and openly is the Listen-Acknowledge-Ask approach outlined below. Keep the following in mind when using this approach:


Listen-Acknowledge-Ask approach

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  • Actions are driven by beliefs, thoughts and feelings. Fear of losing one’s livelihood can be paralyzing. Helping your team understand and identify their thoughts and feelings is a supportive, trust-building approach.

  • Can fostering empathy among Canadians be vital in slowing the spread of COVID-19? Research on previous epidemics by UBC psychology professor Anita DeLongis suggests those who more easily empathize with the perspectives of others are more likely to do things that are essential to quelling the crisis, like frequently washing their hands. “She’s found that people who respond with more empathy tend to be more likely to engage in these behaviours that help the community,” says Nancy Sin, an assistant professor with a focus on health psychology at the University of British Columbia, who is co-leading the study with DeLongis.

  • You are asking your team to be open and vulnerable with you, so you must be open as well. A balancing act is required of leaders. Be honest and at the same time be positive about the future. Consider what you are learning and the benefits of putting new practices in place. Be clear about what you can be confident and optimistic about, and make sure your team shares your vision.

  • As a leader, it’s your job to explore options, resources and possibilities. Scan the horizon for opportunities. Let your people know what you are doing.
  • If in the “ask” stage of the approach and the response is a request for something impossible, outside the budget or timelines, etc., an honest response can be, “I would also like for us to be able to do this. Let’s keep it in mind as we explore other options we can afford right now.” This is a time when decisive leadership is valued.

  • Feelings can be positive too. Acknowledge them and build on the momentum.

Authentic communication is a powerful tool in the leadership toolkit. The Conference Board of Canada, April 2020, stated the following skills and competencies are among the most important for both present and future work:

  1. Communication (including oral communication, listening skills, and presentation skills)

  2. Problem-solving

  3. Leadership

  4. Collaboration

  5. Resiliency (flexibility, adaptability and agility)

All five of these skills are baked into the authentic communication approach. Be authentic by listening and truly hearing what your team is telling you, and it will help strengthen your enterprise. Your leadership through this time will be remembered and affect your team for a long time.  end mark

Kathleen Redmond, MA, MCC serves leaders as an executive coach, corporate facilitator, author and adjunct professor at the University of Guelph. Her areas of focus are character, culture and communication. Kathleen can be  reached at Centre for Character Leadership.

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.