Conversations can impact how we feel about ourselves and others, as well as who we work for and how we fit in. If you have ever left a meeting feeling unheard you will know how negatively even a brief conversation can affect you. Conversely, if you have ever emerged feeling victorious, it is quite possible that others may not be similarly overjoyed, even if they say they are onboard. The fact is, neither situation is good for business or good for you.
Judith E. Glaser, in her recent book Conversational Intelligence, describes how good-quality conversations are the building blocks of success. “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations,” she says.
Glaser describes how conversations are about more than mere words and information and that within each is a hidden language of trust. She also explains how, as we converse, neuro-chemical changes in our brains impact how trusting or distrusting we feel and whether or not we buy in to what is being said or withdraw. It’s important to understand how effective our conversations are, in business and in our personal lives, and to what degree they elicit trust. Yet, how often do we ask ourselves if our conversations are “working”?
In Conversational Intelligence, Glaser explains how the quality and effectiveness of conversations can be categorized in three key levels, with most of us stuck in the first two.
Level 1 — Transactional and Informational.
Here we focus on telling people what we want. If we sense resistance we tell them again more persuasively. If that still does not work, we tell them again more forcefully. Glaser describes this as the tell/sell/yell conversation. This is the poorest quality of the three levels and the most ineffective since often the audience is left feeling talked at or unconvinced. If we have not experienced this type of conversation in the workplace, we may have experienced it growing up as this is the level of conversation often used by parents to speak to their children — and by children to speak to their parents.
Level 2 — Positional Authority.
These are top-down “conversations” whereby someone in authority relies on that power to issue a decree of sorts. In large organizations, this is usually done via an en-masse email from the CEO. Communicating like this, with no opportunity for input or questions, tells employees their concerns and ideas don’t matter. This is a very poor way to solicit their commitment. Again, we may have experienced this level of conversation as children, or used our own parental authority in this manner, perhaps even resorting to “because I said so!” in times of push back.
So, if these levels of conversations are so ineffective, why do we keep having them?
One reason is that they have become so ingrained in us over the years that we don’t know how else to speak to each other. Another is that neuro-chemicals are again at play. Glaser describes how “winning” in a conversation triggers a pleasure-inducing chemical in the brain, which reinforces the need to win. But, what if winning were a shared experience?
Level 3 — Sharing and Discovering.
Glaser describes this level of conversation as the ideal we should strive for and it does take effort, at least initially as we re-program ourselves to communicate differently. Level 3 means we have come to the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to listen. We accept that we may not be right and might actually learn something. Sometimes, it can also mean managing our emotions and staying the course so things don’t descend to the lower conversation levels. Simply put, this level of conversation is a collaboration through which we build relationships and trust. At Level 3, we are working together as equal co-creators of the outcome. This is very different from the “here’s what I want” tell/sell/ yell conversation, and the “do as you’re told” top-down scenario. At Level 3, everyone contributes to the outcome, everyone shares in its success — and everyone comes away a winner.
So, how would you rank your conversations? Are they where you would like them to be? To explore how you can elevate your conversations to create better relationships and foster greater success — at work or home — please call for an appointment.
For more about Judith E. Glaser’s book visit www.conversationalintelligence.com/home