One Foolish Conversation And Three Keys to Skillful Conversation
One foolish conversation can pollute an entire team.
If we understood the pervasive power of conversations, we’d open our mouths with greater care.
We’ve all tried to make things better, only to make them worse by saying something stupid.
3 keys to skillful conversation:
#1. Hunger to learn and understand.
Many conversations are pooled ignorance. Incompetent leaders tend to think they know before they’ve learned.
Those who know the least often feel they know the most.
Those who most need to learn can’t see their own ignorance.
If leadership is about people, be a student of people.
- Learn about strengths, weaknesses, and values. Energy goes up when you talk about what matters.
- Learn about rhythms of energy. When are people at their best and worst?
- Learn about negative triggers and energy givers.
- Learn what people really do and why they do it.
#2. Share stories:
- Where were you brought up?
- How did you get into your current job?
- What do you do for fun?
You see the heart when the eyes go bright. While listening to stories, watch people light up. If you want people to bring heart to work, understand what makes them tick.
Problem-solving, solution-finding, and feedback-giving improve when we know each other’s stories.
#3. Establish understanding.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
Repeat what you heard to establish understanding.
- “I hear you saying….”
- “You’re making me think….”
- “Is this what you mean….”
- “I’d like to be sure I understand….”
- The conversation you dread is more important than the one you enjoy.
- You can respect people even when you disagree.
- Cut your talk-time in half and ask, “What else would you like to know?”
Conversations done well energize teams and make organizations better.
How might leaders improve the quality of their conversations?
How might leaders improve the quality of their conversations?
“We really need to think before we speak”.
Understanding the people we are speaking too helps, “I’m not saying “Tip toe through the Tulips”, perhaps a bit selective yet get the point across.
Thanks Tim. I’m still learning to think before I speak. 🙂
Solid, again, Dan. We all talk too much and listen too little too much.
“Cut your talk-time in half and ask” was a great “talking point.” (See, there I go again!)
For managers, maybe the mindset needs to be more on facilitating than on “linstructing” or “managing” – the latter possibly has that root word of “manipulate” embedded into its conceptualization.
And we can also anchor to the past, which can sometimes block our movement into the future with other people. I am reading a series of Orphan X novels by Gregg Horwitz and he put forth the mantra for the key guy as, “Next Time.”
Maybe it might help if we kept that in our lexicon of leadership words, as in, “Next time, what are some things we might do or look at?”
Thanks Dr. Scott. I find the idea of being anchored in the past fascinating as it relates to conversations. On one hand it seems necessary. But, getting stuck there is the problem.
People just want to be heard, if we take the time to meet with people and we take the time to listen, 60% of the problems if not more will be solved as the person tells their story out loud, processes what they are saying, and come up with their own solutions as they are speaking. All we have to do is take the time to listen and ask probing questions.
Thanks Pat. If you want to be a great conversationalist, help people feel heard… hmmmm interesting thought! 🙂
“Conversations” are (intentionally and fundamentally) multi- faceted:
Monologue – when someone is “talking at you,” they aren’t listening, least of all to themselves … they want/need the audience to affirm THEM less than agree (entirely) with what they are saying. Actors and comedians (and many CEO’s I’ve known) are expert at controlling a group dynamic (nod, clap, laugh, dance, etc. – some form of consent – to go on) in this manner. This is pseudo-leadership, a manipulation, short-term in effect, and ultimately damaging to trust – because personal needs for affirmation are addictive in nature, always escalating and therefore always changing. The natural end is 180 degrees from the origin (i.e. an argument). “Just trust me …” Assumptions inherent in the monologue cannot be queried.
Dialogue – “talking with you” is a (two-way) sharing, at best an active, genuine exploration (of relationships) … looking for a WAY to see more so than WHAT to see. Insofar as the result is an uncoerced mutual consensus on HOW to go forward, to see WHAT happens next, foundational trust is built – but the dialogue must be a continual, iterative ethic over time and events for trust to endure. Like marriage, it is a serious, long term STRATEGIC commitment (to continue the dialogue). It’s natural end is an open-ended agreement (on at least some relevant, material, tangible things). “Trust but verify.” All assumptions can (and should) be queried.
Interlogue – “speaking for us” is a triangulation, measuring the dialectic against reality. This is the tactical “thinking out loud” – brainstorming – of how to bring our goals to fruition, ideas to material reality, our vision to existence. This is the realm of group decisionmaking – votes taken, judge rules, authority dictates – where the assumptions are (refined and re-)stated as the basis for action.
All three are parts of a decent conversation/discussion. The trick is making sure none are the entire parcel.
My goal in these types of conversations is to talk about THEM as much as possible. Honestly, unless they ask about me, I tend to focus on them.
Your points are right on. Early in my career and leadership, I thought people valued my knowledge and opinion and I gave them freely and often. Then, I started in a new role and the manager I knew well issued me a challenge to refrain from giving my opinion directly for 6 weeks. Instead, I was to ask questions until either the person came to my conclusion or I better understood the situation and changed my thinking. Obviously, this didn’t work in every situation, but when I did use it, I learned just how much I didn’t know. Easy solutions in my head were much more intangled from a systems perspective. And my own employees felt more confident and ownership having come to conclusions on their own. It really is true that the older you get, the less you know.