How to Control the Conversation

conversation

How to Charm, Deflect, and Defend

 

When someone asks a question, you should answer it, right?

Not according to James O. Pyle and Maryann Karinch, authors of Control the Conversation: How to Charm, Deflect, and Defend Your Position Through Any Line of Questioning. They believe you should respond to the question, and they explain more in our discussion below. James O. Pyle is a human intelligence training instructor for the combined services of the Department of Defense. Maryann Karinch is a body language expert and the author or coauthor of 28 books.

After reading their fascinating book, on a topic I love to study, I reached out to them to learn more about their work.

 

“The first step to success is putting assumptions aside.” -Pyle and Karinch

 

Characteristics of Control

What characteristics do you notice if someone is not good at controlling the conversation?

Here is how this often works in an office environment:

First, the person has a firm agenda that precludes listening. She lays out her points with an intent to control the conversation, but sabotages that desire for control by talking over others. Almost immediately, other people shut her out. They want to reach for the smartphone, grab a cookie—basically do anything that gets them away from her noise. Politicians, CEOs, and even managers sabotage themselves all the time this way. They used their vested power to command attention, but never truly control the conversation.

 

Contrast that with someone who is spectacular at controlling the conversation.

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell comes into interviews with an engaging conversational tone. As she answers questions, she finds ways to work in messages of vision, safety, quality, and so on that inspire a sense of trust in SpaceX technology—it’s easy to find yourself cheering her, and the company, on to greater heights (pun intended). Part of her success in conveying these messages is that she weaves in timelines, expertise of the team, descriptions of specific events, and a sense of location.

 

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” -Carl Sagan

 

Respond, Don’t Answer, a Question

Tap the Power of Collaboration

collaboration

Boost Your Team‘s Potential

If you want to create amazing results, you must almost always learn the power of collaboration. In a world that seems more polarized than ever, achieving true collaboration may seem more difficult than ever.

Dr. Thea Singer Spitzer is the founder of Critical Change, LLC, and she believes that we need a new approach. A consultant, strategic advisor, and coach to top executives for nearly 30 years, she has researched and experienced these issues first hand.

Her new book, The Power of Collaboration, is a guidebook to effective teamwork. I recently spoke with her about her new book and her unique perspective on collaboration.

 

“Collaboration is no longer just a strategy: It is the key to long-term business success and competitiveness.” -Bob Mudge

 

The Power of Collaboration is the title of your new book. Tell us about that power and why tapping it is vitally important. 

The Power of Collaboration is reaching an entirely different level of achievement by working exceptionally well with others. When we do this, we alter the climate and create radically better outcomes rather than trying to convince others that ‘our way is the right way’ or working around those others if we are unable to convince them.

When we are really collaborating, we create what Michael Schrage calls, a ‘communal brain.’ We not only bring out everyone’s best, we’re able to turn those ideas into a ‘collective intelligence,’ which allows us to achieve better results.

Turning individual perspectives into collective intelligence isn’t a new concept. Most companies are much better at it than they were 10 or 15 years ago. But those improvements may be making us lackadaisical. We’re so busy patting ourselves on our backs for the distance we’ve come, we’re not realistically assessing where we are still falling short. The idea of collaborating sounds simple because of the progress we’ve made. But in a world where people with opposing views on nearly every topic imaginable must come together to achieve organizational objectives, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Employees and teams may be quite capable of handling their specific areas of focus. But unless they work together in a whole different way, products, services, and profits will suffer. Do your colleagues work together so well that your company is positioned to create the next all-electric car (or your industry’s equivalent)? If you can’t answer this question with an unequivocal “yes,” then it is vitally important that you and your organization tap this power.

 

“Access enables collaboration.” -Thea Singer Spitzer

 

Lessen the Rifts

Do you think it’s more or less difficult to get employees to work together today than in decades past? Why or why not?

That’s a great question.  Sadly, I believe it is harder today.

9781632651235The number of people in the United States who feel drawn to those with similar beliefs, and cut off from those who differ, is growing. Rifts among people holding opposing views are creeping into the workplace. This creates schisms and reduces trust between staff who may have previously worked well with each other. It often increases ‘us versus them’ thinking, alienating folks from others, and making collaboration more challenging.

People want to fix these schisms. Some think that in order to improve collaboration, the rifts need to be resolved first. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Successful collaboration calls for honest conversations about deeply held views. Those dialogues need to happen in a way that maintains trust and allows people to mesh divergent perspectives into great solutions.

The philosophies and practices offered in this book help lessen schisms and reduce ‘us / them’ thinking in ways that build a collaborative culture.

1 Japanese Business Skill We Should All Master

Japan

1 Skill to Master

Because I do business all over the world, I have the opportunity to travel and learn unique skills. Unless you want to see quick disaster, it’s important to prepare carefully when meeting with counterparts from other cultures.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Japan. My experience with Japanese business leaders has always been positive. I appreciate the unique culture. On this trip, I was once again struck by the Japanese hospitality, by their respect, deference, and kindness.

If you’ve ever studied Japanese business etiquette, you may know that the norms are very different from Western standards.

  • Rank and title are more meaningful than in the United States.
  • Polite conversation normally requires frequent expressions of gratitude.
  • Slightly bowing shows respect.
  • Where to sit at a negotiation table, or at dinner, is carefully orchestrated by rank and standing.
  • Business cards are exchanged with intention. Hold the business card with both hands and show respect to the person with a slight bow to it. Never put the card in your back pocket or casually put it away. Instead, place it close to your heart in a card case.
  • The group is more important than the individual.
  • Slurping soup is proper etiquette and shows your appreciation.
  • Giving gifts is very important and is a ritualistic exchange.
  • Toasting is important at dinner.
  • Nodding is customary to show attention and comprehension.
  • Nine is an unlucky number in Japan, making the subtitle of my new book problematic. Too late!

The list goes on and on.

japanese pond

 

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” –Leonardo da Vinci

 

The Skill of Silence

There’s one particular skill, or habit, that I particularly noted. Japanese are much more comfortable with silence than in many other parts of the world.

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

Ask Questions to Improve Your Leadership

This is a guest post by friend, executive and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

 

Leadership is Not About Knowing All the Answers

Leadership is not about knowing all the answers—it is about leading others to do their best to accomplish goals, solve problems and grow. How many times have you seen a “leader” arrive at the wrong conclusion or take misguided action because they did not know all the facts? How many times have you been frustrated because you were not asked to provide your opinion, perspective or experience?

 


“Leadership is not about knowing all the answers.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

When leaders do not take time to formulate and ask appropriate questions, the whole organization suffers—people do not contribute their best; they do not grow, and the organization often takes sub-optimal or wrong action. Likewise, leaders that do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization, gradually turn associates into non-thinking “yes people” and risk looking foolish or arrogant.

A leader’s effectiveness can be greatly improved by using insightful questions. Here is how.

 


“Leaders who do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Benefits and Power of Asking Questions

With the proper use and timing, asking questions allows a leader to:

  • Guide the direction of the conversation and focus the discussion
  • Clarify what others have said to improve understanding
  • Improve decisions with better, in-depth information from people who may know more
  • Formulate well-informed decisions with input from other perspectives to better define issues
  • Precipitate a decision by asking for options and exactly what is needed to decide
  • Develop alternative options
  • Raise the level of thinking in the organization, often to broader, more strategic issues
  • Improve organizational collaboration and communication
  • Help move from concepts and discussions to action and defined accountability
  • Help focus on results and outcomes
  • Empower the organization
  • Make people feel valued and improve job satisfaction
  • Solicit input from those who may not typically speak up
  • Improve organizational learning
  • Inspire creativity and new ideas
  • Buy time to think
  • Help overcome wasted authority.
  • Allow confrontation without making statements by inducing people to explain themselves
  • Lead others to conclusions
  • Suspend the business discussion to discover problematic interpersonal issues, attitudes and concerns
  • Improve self-reflection to discern what was learned, mistakes made, missed opportunities to mentor, what to do differently

 


“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” -Thomas Berger

 

My Most-Used Questions

Each of us can come up with a list of questions to be used in the appropriate circumstance. Here is a list of questions that I have found to be effective and useful: