The Conversational Tool That Could Save P&G

A.G. Lafley is back as the head of Procter & Gamble. By parsing his previous writing, we can sketch out the tough conversation he has to have—and how to do it.

As of June 30, A.G. Lafley will be returning to lead the world's largest consumer products company, Procter & Gamble. The once-and-future CEO has a corporate odyssey before him—and from what we've seen, he's armed himself with a few secret rhetorical arts.

As we know from back in 2005, Lafley is a man of quests. As Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter recently noted, one of his first tasks will be convincing his executive team to take risks in an uncertain environment—something humans aren't biologically equipped to do.

Luckily for the conglomerate, Lafley knows how to have a creative conversation: As our sister publication Inc. recently noted, Lafley understands that people, when they're trying to communicate, tend toward advocacy, where you make statements about the truth of your point of view, instead of assertive inquiry, where you state that you have a view—and that you may be missing something.

"It sounds simple, but this stance has a dramatic effect on group behavior if everyone in the room holds it," Lafley explained. "One, they advocate their view as a possibility, not as the single right answer. Two, they listen carefully and ask questions about alternative views."

How do you get there? Lafley, being an innovation guy, has three steps:

  • Advocate your own position, then invite responses. Try saying, "This is how I see the situation and why. How do you see it?"
  • Paraphrase the other person’s view and ask for their take. "It sounds to me like your argument is this. Is that what you're saying?"
  • Explain a gap in understanding. "It sounds like you think this acquisition is a bad idea. Could you tell me how you came to that conclusion?"

Sound familiar? It's the corporate equivalent to how America's most controversial philosopher congenially destroys arguments.

[Image: Flickr user Erich Ferdinand]

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