If you want people to share things about themselves, or learnings from past failures, be willing to share yours too. The more vulnerable something makes you feel, the more important it is to be the first to say it. For example, if you want to encourage people to admit mistakes in order to learn from them, share a story about a failure and how you felt, what the consequences were, what you did about it, and what you learned.
The engagement tips put in practice
A better scenario for John:
He starts the meeting by letting people know that the meeting will be about an upcoming re-organization. John immediately lets them talk, asking if they have heard any rumors of re-org (they will have!), and lets them vent.
Then he will spend a few minutes finding out what kind of information people would need to know in order to be able to feel well-informed about a re-organization (designing alliance). Some people will know exactly what they need, and others not, but this gives him a good basis.
And if they need to hear things John can’t tell them – John won’t evade the question – he will simply let them know he cannot disclose that at this time (aligning expectations).
If he knows when he will be able to, or at least what it depends on, he would disclose that too (walking the talk). John does not make any promises he cannot keep. John is courageously honest without disclosing sensitive information. He also says a few words about how he feels about having to make this announcement.
John plainly lays out the facts of the re-organization concisely and lets people know how he genuinely felt about it when he first heard the news and how he handled that.
This time, instead of simply asking, ‘Questions?’, he asks, ‘What else do you need to be able to absorb this information?’ and people either say, ‘Nothing right now.’ or ask their questions…