Are Your Conversations Worth Having?

conversations

Leadership Conversations

Conversations are a critical part of conducting business, of leading teams, of interacting with others.

Despite their obvious importance, how often do we think about them as a crucial skill?

Imagine if everyone on your team became exceptional at having meaningful conversations. Do you think it would translate to more wins? I’m certain of it, and that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed reading a new book by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres. The authors packed so much wisdom and experience into Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement that you will find yourself referring back to it as an essential conversation reference guide.

Jackie Stavros is a professor at Lawrence Technological University; Appreciative Inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute; and an associate at Taos Institute. Cheri Torres is a Senior Consultant with NextMove and Partner at Innovation Partners International.

I recently spoke with Jackie and Cheri about their work.

 

“We live in worlds our conversations create.” -David Cooperrider

 

The Power of a Good Conversation

Talk about the power of a good conversation.

Torres: Actually, conversation is powerful, period, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. A bad conversation can turn a good day sour, influencing interactions for hours to come. A good conversation can brighten your day and propel you into high performance and a sense of elation. When you think about it, everything arises from conversation. We’re either carrying on an internal dialogue or engaged with others, each conversation influencing what’s possible in the next moment. Conversations influence our health, wellness, happiness, relationships, performance, and what’s possible.

 

“Sometimes the greatest adventure is simply a conversation.” -Amadeus Wolf

 

With their importance, why do conversations not seem to get enough attention in business?

Torres: Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-fontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.

 

Contrast a destructive versus an affirmative conversation. What are the effects of a destructive conversation? How long do they last?

Torres: In our book, in Chapter 2: What Kind of Conversations Are You Having, we classify four different kinds of conversations. All interactions either add-value or they devalue people and situations, and all conversations are either inquiry-based or statement-based.  If your questions devalue a person or situation, we refer to those kinds of conversations as “critical conversations.” If you are telling and devaluing others, we call those “destructive.”  Critical and destructive conversations typically trigger a threat response in others, and we just spoke about how that impacts us. The impact of such conversations can last a long time, long after the cortisol has left the system.  The reason why? Our memory stores our experience; this person is recognized as unsafe. This of course inhibits working well together.

On the other hand, if you are telling and adding value, we refer to those interactions as “affirmative conversations.” Acknowledging strengths, complementing a job well done, advocating for someone or something are examples of affirmative conversations. If you are asking questions that add value or generate value, we call those conversations worth having. Affirmative conversations will shift the brain from distrust to trust; conversations worth having will broaden and deepen that shift allowing people to bring their full value to relationships in the workplace, at home, and/or in communities.

 

“Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.” -Tao Te Ching

 

What is appreciative inquiry and how does it relate to communication?

How to Achieve Stadium Status

stadium filled

Take Your Business to the Big Time

Every coach, actor, athlete and performer wants to achieve stadium status. And every brand covets the opportunity to be at the pinnacle of public awareness.

John Brubaker knows the strategies behind the biggest names who have risen to the top of the game. He shares the tactics and strategies you can employ to help your own business soar. John is a consultant, speaker, and author of numerous books, who teaches how you can turbocharge your performance. His latest book, Stadium Status: Taking Your Business to the BIG TIME, immediately caught my attention. I recently asked John to share more of his observations.

 

“You aren’t wealthy until you have something that money can’t buy.” –Garth Brooks

 

What is stadium status?

Stadium Status: To be a big enough star that you could fill an entire stadium when performing a concert, you know you’re big once you’ve achieved Stadium Status. —UrbanDictionary.com

That scholarly journal, “Urban Dictionary,” defines stadium status very succinctly: essentially, it means that if you’ve achieved stadium status, you are a big star. Stadium status is, on some level, a goal that lives within every artist, entertainer, and entrepreneur.

 

“Don’t compare your preseason to someone else’s postseason.” –Coach Morgan Randall

 

Lessons from Garth

Toward the back of the book, you talk about Garth Brooks. What can non-country music stars learn from his performances?

Brooks is so dialed in to his customer’s perspective that, in every arena he performs in, the morning of the performance he sits up in the back row or in the obstructed-view seat that is the worst in the house. He does this to better understand how his customers see him and how well they see him. The back row customers tend to be some of the most loyal fans at any concert. These are folks who have probably pinched pennies and saved up for months to purchase his tickets.

To give a few special fans in the back row a true front row experience, at the beginning of his shows Brooks sends security guards to the “nose bleed” seats in the back row. Arena security asks to see the customers’ tickets and then explains to them they are sitting in the wrong seats. Right when they begin to get confused or upset because their seats can’t get any worse, they’re told that they’ll be escorted to the correct seats Mr. Brooks has waiting for them . . . in the front row. I saw him do this in the early nineties in Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena and again in 1999. And he continues to surprise and delight fans today.

Everyone can benefit from putting themselves in their customers shoes. Secret shop your own store, call your 800 number and see how long you get put on hold. Email or reach out to customer service on social media to experience how your customers experience your business. I promise you that you’ll get an education money can’t buy.

 

“In any team sport, the best teams have consistency and chemistry.” –Roger Staubach

 

What’s the best way to use affirmations?

Whatever Your Past, You Can Write A New Ending To Your Story

Rewrite Your Story

I remember her sitting on the couch, telling her story. My mom was listening, nodding her head and taking it in. This woman had a tough life and she recounted stories of abuse, of hurt, of neglect. My presence barely registered as she poured out her pain. Only a few, carefully chosen questions, that was all it took from mom. Like a skilled surgeon piercing infected skin, she used a question like a scalpel, surgically timed and designed to alleviate pain.

 

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” -Shakespeare

 

It’s funny how I can recall the room so clearly now: the curtains and wallpaper in the room, the sofas, the layout, the piano nestled in the corner. It’s all etched in my memory. Also etched in my memory is the story. It was different from others, sure, but in so many ways it was the same.

My family took people in; mostly people in trouble; people in need; people with histories, pain, and shame. Though we were not the wealthiest in the world, there was always room for one more at the table. Some came for a single meal while others would stay for years.

As I listened to the particulars of this woman’s story, I felt for her. You couldn’t help but be affected as you heard the details.

I learned some lessons:

  • Pain can be used as a powerful force for good.
  • We don’t have to keep re-reading that chapter.
  • We can turn the page.
  • We can welcome new characters, new narratives, and new opportunities.
  • We can write the ending.
  • We can create a story worth living, one that can inspire others.

 

“Your life’s best chapters are ahead of you. Turn the page with great expectation.” -Skip Prichard

 

You say, “Skip, I didn’t have that kind of life. I didn’t have abuse or pain. Life was normal.”