CLO Connect - Deborah Shannon
Training & Learning

Deb Shannon’s 3 Tools for Building a Foundation of Trust

As the saying goes, communication is the key to success. 

But is there a way to facilitate greater communication between teams and leaders that results in better learning? 

According to Deborah Shannon, Corporate Trainer and Facilitator, it’s all about building trust in yourself as an L&D leader and between people so that they feel comfortable in asking questions and learning from each other. 

In my latest interview, I spoke to Deborah about her three tools for building a foundation of trust and how they facilitate impactful collaborative learning. 

So, what is Deborah’s first tool? Read on to hear more.

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Deborah’s 3 tools for building a foundation of trust

As a conversations coach and consultant with 25 years’ experience, Deborah consults with L&D teams to ensure their investments in collaborative learning culture pay off.

“I do that by setting the table for mental and emotional safety first,” she says. “The foundation of learning is trust, because you have to be free to make a mistake. You need to have a certain degree of trust and confidence in yourself to do so. If it's collaborative learning, it's really important to have trust in your teammates or classmates, too.”

Deborah uses three tools to help people build trust in themselves and their teams.

The foundation of learning is trust. You need to have a certain degree of trust and confidence in yourself.

1.  Positive Intelligence®

First, as Deborah explains, positive intelligence® helps you build trust in yourself, which allows individuals to learn to lower the volume of their inner critics who tell them they aren’t good enough.

The foundation of learning is trust

“So, you can discover the sage mind that reduces stress and opens your learning brain, and the executive brain, to new possibilities. That first step is trusting yourself to take risks and to correct errors as part of the learning process,” she says.

Next up is building conversations through Conversational Intelligence®.

2. Conversational Intelligence®

The second element of trust is building conversations using Conversational Intelligence®, a method, developed over 30 years, by Judith Glaser, an organizational anthropologist, trainer, and author, who studied and wrote extensively about the neuroscience of conversations that work.

“And again, it's bringing awareness to how words create worlds with our teammates, with our leaders, and how that conversation really opens up the neural pathways to more learning, possibility, and expansion,” she says.

3. The musical storyline of life

Based on music, Deborah’s third and most recent tool helps her bridge inter-personal gaps by introducing fun tools for making authentic connections within the team. “I use music for ice-breaking and relationship building,” she says. 

“Playing songs from our past and using shared stories about the first time people connect with music is a terrific way to engage the creative and relationship functions of the brain. It's really exciting for L&D teams to see their individuals connecting on a whole-hearted level, because that empowers higher level learning and all-around performance” says Deborah.

So, how can leaders use these tools in practice? Deborah went on to share a success story.

Need a few more expert insights? Find out how L&D leaders at Harry’s, Robert Half, Disneyland Paris and more are turning L&D into a driver of company culture.

A success story

As a one-on-one coach, Deborah worked with a client, Janet,for six months helping her to develop confidence in her own leadership.

She was the point person for a team of five developers who met monthly with a product team to talk about how they were building out the software to meet the expectations for their new clients,” she says.

“And Janet didn't see that communications competence in herself or even her other team members. When you don't feel good about yourself and your leadership ability, that's what you project onto other people.”

Deborah worked with Janet one-on-one using Positive Intelligence® to quiet her inner critic. Then by using empathy for herself, Janet could see new things which empowered her empathy for people on the team.

When you don't feel good about yourself and your leadership ability, that's what you project onto other people.

“She began to understand how different people on the team saw their individual roles, and she felt more empowered to  step into her unique role,” says Deborah.  

Meanwhile, Deborah was working with Janet’s team to help them understand the power of conversations. She helped them to be more intentional and aware of the level of conversations they were having, based on how they asked questions and word choice. The transformation that they experienced led to project outcomes that were far greater than the sum of the team’s individual parts.

Three levels of conversation

As Deborah explains, there are three levels of conversation:

Level One: Fundamental yes and no questions where you don’t really connect at the heart or mind–you’re just speaking in transactional terms. 

Level Two: These conversations have questions with personal interest geared towards hooking someone in and convincing them to work your way.

Level Three: An extensive interaction where all parties are willing to be authentic and vulnerable. They express new ideas, and they  use curiosity to discover new possibilities and share their concerns. This approach expands the realm of possible actions and results and vastly improves relationships for further work in the future. 

“So, Janet had a monthly meeting with her team of five IT developers and the product leadership team,” says Deborah. “The product team was geared towards delivering something that would sell sooner in the market. This caused a rift between them and the IT team, because the product was not user-friendly, yet

But by using these two tools, Deborah explains, Janet and her team were primed for trust, understanding and how conversations flow more smoothly using affirmative language and asking questions. By asking questions the team doesn’t know the answers to, they show they don’t believe they are the only ones who were right.

“So, when one engineer persisted with negative questions,” Deborah says, “Janet stepped into her leadership role—quieting the voices that said, ‘You're an imposter here. You can't lead this team’—and she said, ‘Tom, tell us why this is so important to you that we hear why these 15 things will go wrong’.” 

“When he began explaining everything he knew from previous projects, the whole room chimed in. They wanted to know more. They asked him more questions. They helped build on his ideas and raise the level and productivity.

This success story shows the benefits of using these tools to build a foundation of trust and also highlights the advantages of collaborative learning. By helping leaders and teams understand how to have the right conversations, they can create a safe environment to ask questions to support their own learning and to learn from each other.

So, how does Deborah know that her three tools are having an impact? As she explains, they know they are affecting two key metrics.

Related: Delivering Closer Connections: Stuart’s 3-Part Strategy for flexible Hybrid Working

Measuring the impact of a conversation culture

Deborah aims to create an environment where people can be candid and confident in accepting that others do things differently. 

“The results side is really having a more transparent culture of conversations and communications writ large,” she says.

“The results come from people having the courage to ask questions,” she says, “there's much less redo work. Most operations teams will tell you they spend 25% of their time getting documentation reworked because of a lack of clarity. So, we're reducing rework.”

“We're also accelerating innovation. And I think that story revealed how that innovation accelerates. People buy in, introduce possibilities, and then you can hunker down with this level of trust to create solutions.”

In Deborah’s experience, building a foundation of trust opens up the executive brain to new possibilities. “What we're doing today is creating our future. So, we have to be intentional about preparing for how we learn together to create that desired future,” she says. 

Related: Busuu's 3-Step Playbook for Embedding Community in Self-Paced Language Programs

Getting started on the path to having the right conversations

Positive and Conversational Intelligence®, says Deborah, begin with the individual and the team. 

“The L&D teams set the pace for having the courage to ask questions and to hear their teams speak empathetically. You have to be able to listen with empathy, and you build your own momentum in creating an accelerated learning team from there,” she says. 

Thanks to Deborah for sharing her knowledge and experience with us!

If you’re looking for more inspiration from experts on communication and community building, check out our interview with Halimah Jones about Slack’s playbook for building new hire communities through remote onboarding and Cheryl Haga’s enablement collaboration strategy to develop trusted relationships at Deel.

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