Framing Conversations

One of the key aspects of leadership, especially when making a difficult, important or controversial decision is how we frame the conversations around the decisions. In fact, the way that we frame conversations often dictates both the tone and the outcome of the conversation and decision. That is not to say we structure conversations in a way to be manipulative or dishonest, as that is not the case. When we frame conversations, we must be transparent, honest and avoid any perception or practice of manipulation.

That said, when we think about and talk about difficult decisions, we must consider how we frame our conversation. One example involved a church I served and whether or not to start a preschool. There are were many opinions around this issue, multiple questions and concerns and many assumptions, especially around finances. All of a sudden everyone was an expert on early childhood education, church leadership, finance, education, economics, community and more.

In this case, we hired a consultant thanks to a grant. We made it clear to the congregation, consultant and community that we were seeking that answer to one question: ‘is there a need for additional high quality early childhood education in our county?’ We made it clear to the consultant that we did not want him to assume an answer, nor did we want him to seek out proof for an answer we had already come to in our minds. We made sure he spoke with key leaders who would have wisdom and insight on this issue. We had him visit area preschools.

When it came to the overall conversation, our direction was simple. We focused on our mission to serve people and to serve our community. The question for us was this: ‘if there is a need for more high quality early childhood education, does our current mission and building usage lead us to a call to offer a new preschool?’ It was that simple. It was not about attracting families, starting something new, competition or untying else. Simply put the conversation was about need, mission, service and calling.

Now, we certainly had many discussion about many side issues, ideas, concerns, drawbacks and benefits. All of those items needed to be discussed, but when it came down to the decision, it was about need and mission, nothing more, nothing less. Not everyone was on board, not everyone understood, but the conversation was healthy and we focused on the big picture. Today we have a growing preschool that the congregation and community love and support and in the end, how we framed the conversation made it possible.

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