Three questions to embrace uncertainty through conversation

“Professionally run seminars with a clear direction and well-balanced rhythm, which facilitated a spirit of questioning and agility for participants to embrace uncertainty.” 

Hélène Clot

Directrice générale adjointe aux Ressources

Grenoble-Alpes Métropole


Uncertainty : a key factor in choosing a mode of discourse

Uncertainty and change characterise the context that managers face at Grenoble-Alpes Métropole[1] where we recently designed and facilitated two hands-on seminars as part of its managerial support initiative. It was an opportunity to question ourselves on the mode of discourse in such a context and to remind ourselves how uncertainty can be embraced through conversation.

Our mode of discourse is often an indicator of our intention and our level of confidence in the people to whom we are communicating, particularly when the subject matter is unknown territory. In general, we prefer to communicate on a subject we know so that we can project certainty. Yet there is an insidious dark side to communicating only on matters that we think we are certain about. Arrogance could creep in, and if we don’t feel we have gained certainty, fear. In either case, the message is controlled by the person communicating.

Which mode of discourse?

Of course, communicating in not a problem as such; we communicate to convey what we understand of a particular situation. However, when we start a conversation, we activate a new level of understanding that stimulates creativity. Conversation is therefore a more appropriate mode of discourse in a context of uncertainty because it favours the exploration of situations that we don’t yet understand.

Conversation: a thinking tool

At Grenoble-Alpes Métropole, our intention went beyond providing practical tools which would help define management roles and responsibilities and develop relational skills. The seminars were an opportunity to tailor hands-on modules that generated conversation while also developing conversational skills to better embrace and explore uncertainty, as well as being more at ease in such contexts. In contrast to communication, participants were able to explore new themes through conversation.

Embracing transformation through conversation

Any transformation is characterised by unknowns which produce uncertainty. The level of success of a transformation therefore depends on the capacity of the organisation to embrace the uncertainty created by such a context.

These three questions will help ascertain to what degree your mode of discourse embraces uncertainty through conversation:

What am I learning through my communication? If your communication is one-way, you risk missing out on learning opportunities. Furthermore, the recipients may not retain much of your message.

What is my communication format? Agenda-driven process meetings using PowerPoint as a support could miss out on a more revealing exploration achieved through a facilitated conversation.

How is my communication enabling a spirit of questioning? Taking ownership of the solution is an important part of a transformation, but it starts with taking ownership of the question which gives the transformation its meaning.

How will your transformation benefit from conversation in your organisation ?

[1] A ‘Métropole’ is one form of territorial government in France. 

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