Category Archives: Conversational Intelligence

Conversational traps

We want to connect but somehow it goes wrong …

Trap one

I intend our conversation to be a sharing of information, a series of transactions to get things done and develop a shared point of view. The trap I fall into goes:  “I want you to know what I know, so I’m going to spend time just telling you how much I know”. The questions I ask you will be close-ended and designed to confirm and protect what I believe is true. This makes you to move into your ‘protect’ behaviour. The major blindspot here is the ‘Tell-Sell-Yell’ Syndrome. First I Tell you what I know. Then if I don’t think you’ve ‘got it’ sufficiently I start to Sell what I know to you. Finally I ramp up into Yell. And if I don’t Yell at you, I tend to Yell at somone else. Trust is very low.

The antidote is to develop the ability to ask open-ended questions and foster ‘give and take’.

Trap two

I set out to persuade and influence you, aiming to find a win-win solution. The trap I fall into is my need to win at all costs. The major blindspot is my addiction to being right. Every time I ‘win’, because my idea is validated as right, I get a pleasurable ‘hit’ of dopamine. If we don’t get the hit we feel something is wrong. The more we get trained in being right the more we want it. Dopamine got spewed into our brain every time we answered a question correctly at school, and then this continued at work. When we perform at work and are acknowledged for that, we are right again. When there is a group of people in a room and all of them are like this, everyone tries to outdo each other in being right. Any trust created is highly conditional.

The antidote is to develop the ability to share the conversational space with others, to expand the power to others rather than seeking to keep it for myself

Trap three

I set out to discover what I don’t know. I listen to connect with you, I ask questions I don’t have answers to, I’m empathic and curious about your views. I seek to co-create solutions with you. Trust is high. The trap I fall into is the tendency for too much talk and no action.

The antidote is to the ability stay connected while keeping the focus on co-creating mutual success.

Connection opens the space for growth and shifts the other person’s state. The trust created liberates the Executive Brain to enable our best thinking.

The conversational cocktail every leader needs to know how to mix. Part two

“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations” Judith E. Glaser

The three conversational ingredients and how we use them

Transactional talking

We use this to Confirm what we already know. We tell others and ask them the sort of questions that check they have understood, or will comply. We use it to exchange information, for updating or keeping people in the loop, for directing them. Confirm helps us develop our point of view.

Positional talking

We use this to Defend what we know. We seek to influence others, by advocating on behalf of our point of view, and enquiring about theirs. However, our questions tend to be ones we already know the answers to. We Defend because we don’t live in the same world as the other person and have our own perspectives about how to navigate successfully in our world.

Many companies never get beyond Transactional and Positional conversations. We also know that 90% of conversations miss their mark

Transformational talking

We use this to Discover what we don’t know we don’t know. We Share and Discover together, opening up broader insights and wisdom than either of us now has. We ask questions to which we have no answers to explore and develop insights. Our stance is one of curiosity and openness. The spirit of Discovery leads to a chemical shift in our brain and opens our ability to engage with others at a deeper level. It is the cornerstone of trust.

The conversational cocktail every leader needs to know how to mix. Part one

The heart brain in action

We now know that the heart has its own ‘brain’. This brain comprises nodes in the heart that give us access to what’s going on in the chemistry of our body. You could say the Heart Brain acts like a car that has the ability to read its oil, petrol and water levels with great sensitivity, accuracy and speed. For us, rather than oil and petrol, the Heart Brain is especially sensitive to the chemistry of cortisol – the stress hormone, and oxytocin – the bonding hormone. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, increases our social confidence and feels like we are in resonance with others.

How does this apply to leaders?

The Heart Brain is our indicator of the internal chemical balance between what opens and what closes our brain, and therefore what determines the quality of our thinking. As the brain translates the chemical messages coming from the heart it either opens or closes in response. When it opens we can access our Executive Brain and the enourmous power of connection with others. This is where our most advanced and developed thinking is generated. When the brain closes we are set up to defend and attack. We get ‘addicted to being right’ – an addiction that shuts down intelligent conversation instantly.

Conversationally intelligent leaders know how to craft conversations that make themselves and their people smarter. When we feel people listen to us and respect us without judgement, each of us becomes smarter. Feel-good oxytocin is generated which opens the brain. This opening ignites the connection between the Heart and Executive Brains. However, when we’re fearful that we’re being judged, our lower brain owns us. It spews out cortisol and closes down access to our most effective thinking.

Mixing the cocktail

Our mindset is the foundation for our conversations, it’s the glass we serve the cocktail in. Because what is in my brain is different from what’s in yours, we all see the world differently – we have reality gaps. Reality gaps create our ‘default’ mindset which is to defend our point of view, causing uncertainty in others. And uncertainty destabilises the brain. If we don’t shift this mindset it’s like serving our cocktail in a dirty glass. This matters because we can create or shift the other person’s state by our words and how we use them. Leaders can learn to consciously add feel-good, opening and trusting ‘mixers’ into their conversation, and reap the benefits of doing so. That’s the cocktail all leaders need to know how to serve. And it’s the drink of choice for all transformational change.