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 the Best Companies Stay Relevant

shift

How to Stay Relevant

The number one reason for organizational success or failure is the ability to stay relevant. Staying ahead of the continual marketplace changes may seem an impossible task. How do you continually evolve at a pace that keeps you ahead of the curve?

In SHIFT AHEAD: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World, authors Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel explore why some organizations can continually evolve to meet the times and the marketplace, and why others struggle to keep up. Allen is co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce and brings over thirty years of experience in building iconic brands. Joel is an expert on marketing research and branding. He is currently Vice Dean for Doctoral Education at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

I spoke with Allen about the book and their research.

 

“Focusing too much on the competition can lead to inappropriate shifts. It’s the customer that really counts.” -Adamson and Steckel

 

The Case of Blackberry

You share many examples and case studies about companies that just plain missed some key changes. Some ended up obsolete and others struggled for years. Would you share an example and what went wrong?

One of my favorite examples of “what went wrong” is the story of the rise and fall of Blackberry. For those who may not remember, Blackberry was once the indispensable mobile communication device of choice for heads of corporations, heads of state, and the Hollywood elite. It was an easy, secure and effective device that allowed workers to send and receive emails and phone calls while away from the office. The functionality of its tactile keyboard made typing easy, and it built its initial reputation on the concept of security. This was all before Apple and Android smartphones had taken hold.

The quick answer about why it fell so precipitously is that Blackberry’s inability to shift and move forward was caused by its own sense of invincibility, inward group-think, and general arrogance. With the rise of in popularity of iPhones and Androids, those at the helm saw only what they wanted to see. They considered these new devices not as significant competition, but as toys, a passing trend. They arrogantly laughed off the threat that was materializing in front of them instead of figuring out how to defend against it.  As we all know, not only were these smartphones built for ease of communication on multiple platforms, they were beautiful to look at. They became just too much to resist for even the most security-centric audience of users.

Too-little-too-late is what Blackberry eventually did in response, which was exactly what it shouldn’t have done. It began to chase the market with subpar versions of the competitors’ brilliant models, wrongly assuming that its core customers would follow with them. That did not happen. The producers of Blackberry should have doubled down on what made the product so vital to its initial loyal audience. It should have kept its focus on its point of relevant differentiation in the marketplace – security – and capitalized on it. No brand, product, or organization is invincible, especially when it dismisses the needs of its most loyal audience.

 

Shift Ahead

A Travel Guide to Training Around the World

global travel

Learn from Other Cultures

Every year I have the opportunity to travel and conduct business around the world. Learning from other cultures is something I treasure.

The world is getting smaller. When I run into someone I know halfway around the world, I’m no longer surprised. And I’m reminded daily that social media is an exercise in global communication.

Getting a team trained, no matter where they’re located, can be a daunting task, even without cultural differences. Add in the need to think globally, and it can be overwhelming.

That’s where Donna Steffey and 15 other authors can help, with their book Destination Facilitation: A Travel Guide to Training Around the World. As someone who has conducted training in 25 countries, Donna is someone I was eager to talk with about developing a global mindset.  

Donna Steffey, MBA, CPLP, president of Vital Signs Consulting, is an international trainer, author, facilitator of the ATD Master Trainer™ Program, and adjunct faculty member at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

 

“Cultural Intelligence develops intentionally with your commitment to increasing your global mindset.” -Donna Steffey

 

The Impact of Globalization on Training

How are the major trends in technology and globalization impacting the field of training?

DestinationFacilitation-EditedbyDonnaSteffey-bookCoverThe traditional face-to-face classroom training is now less than half of all training done. According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD) 2017 State of the Industry report, that means that 51% of training is delivered via webinars, mobile, self-paced online, or other methods like DVDs or Podcasts. This represents a 10% change in the last 5 years away from traditional classroom training. With over 300 multi-national organizations employing over 35 million people around the globe, online technologies really do become the best method for reaching remote employees.

We see a trend toward mobile learning with 67% of people saying they now use mobile devices to access learning. What is interesting is that only 20% of organizations have formal mobile learning programs.

A trend known as micro-learning is becoming popular to shorten the path from learning to succeeding. Micro-learning is a bite-sized chunk of learning lasting 3-10 minutes and only covering 1-2 crucial points. It often includes interactivity and testing. According to the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, micro-learning improves retention by 20%.

 

67 percent of people use mobile devices to access learning.

Take Off Your Mask and Speak from Your Heart

This is a guest post by Dr. Quentin Schultze, Professor of Communication Emeritus at Calvin College, a media company CEO, speaker, and author of many communication books, including the newly released Communicate Like a True Leader: 30 Days of Life-Changing Wisdom. Visit his blog.

 

Speak from Your Heart

A fine friend and skilled speaker landed in a dreadful situation. He had agreed to address a convention of toastmasters—persons who lead local public-speaking clubs where members overcome common speaking fears and practice effective speaking techniques.

When he arrived a few minutes early for the event, he met with his friend who had arranged the speech. He discovered that the audience was not toastmasters, but postmasters who run local post offices.

He frantically tried to organize a speech in his head while his friend introduced him. Then he took the stage, mic in hand, alone with the whole banquet hall of postmasters peering directly at him. What could he possibly do?

He relinquished his facade.

 

“I never saw a well-fitting mask. It is a great relief to take them off.” —Robert Greenleaf

 

My friend explained to his audience that he had planned a speech for the wrong group. That he didn’t even know what postmasters actually do. That he was thoroughly unprepared.

Then he spoke from the heart about what he knew intimately. He told stories about his loneliness. About his fears. About the stifling lack of meaning in his own work sometimes.

My friend’s message was simple but profound: We are all first and foremost human beings, not workers. We share a common humanity. We experience fear as well as hope. We all feel this in our hearts.

Then he thanked the postmasters for the opportunity to share his off-the-cuff thoughts and feelings.

He received a long, standing ovation. The wounded storyteller had connected with the wounded postmasters. By taking off his “professional” mask, he had honestly led them into a shared, human journey of hope. In spite of being unprepared, he had served them as a great leader-communicator.

 

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson

 

If You Fake It, You’ll Eventually Fall

Phrases to Defuse Difficult Workplace Situations

Defuse conflict

Are you ever at a loss for words?

Do you approach a potentially volatile situation with trepidation because you don’t know what to say?

The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem is for you.

It’s a handbook of sorts, a reference book, filled with clever phrases and questions all designed to help you in conflict situations.

After reading it, I decided to put it to use immediately. I read a few of the phrases before attending most of my meetings. What I found was that I was asking better questions and was a more focused listener.

I recently asked Barbara more about her work.

 

“Knowing when to fight is just as important as how.” –Terry Goodkind

 

Build Your Conflict Muscle

How do you best build the conflict muscle so that you don’t shy away from it?

Practice, practice, practice!  Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict to the point where we not just shy away from it—we run from it and give in rather than dealing with it. It takes courage and practice to have conflict muscle, but we also want people to know that not all conflict is “bad.”  Having differences of opinion can spur creativity and positive change in organizations and personal relationships.

 

Talk about the power of listening.

Most of us think we’re really good listeners, but what we really do is, while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop speaking.  That’s not listening.  Listening is putting your own thoughts aside to focus on the words being said but also observing body language and facial expressions to really get what the person is saying.  Our ever-increasing virtual world makes listening even more difficult, so whenever possible, have difficult conversations face to face. But if you can’t be in the same place, use Facetime or Skype so least you can see each other. A good listener uses techniques like paraphrasing back what they heard to ensure both people are on the same wave length. Listening takes practice—just like any other communication form. We spend a lot time learning how to speak to be understood or how to write well but not much time learning how to listen.

 

“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” –Thomas Edison

 

Ask for Clarity