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?

Think Like a Navy SEAL to Achieve Greatness

navy seal

Think Like a Navy SEAL

This is not your typical career: after graduation, start as a CPA with a prestigious accounting firm, then go back to school at night for an MBA at NYU Stern School of Business, and leave it all behind to become a Navy SEAL. After full-time active duty, show your entrepreneurial side by co-founding Coronado Brewing Company, NavySEALS.com, and then other businesses like SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind.

That’s the unconventional career of Mark Divine.

I love to learn from people with varied experiences, and Mark is in a rare category. Of all the people I’ve met, no one has quite this type of resume.

His book, The Way of the SEAL, caught my attention a few years ago, and he is now re-releasing it in a second edition.

Truth be told, I’d much rather read his book than go through his brutal training program!

I recently caught up with him to talk about his work and his new book.

 

You were already a successful consultant when you decided to join the Navy and become the best as a SEAL. What drove you to make this decision? 

Shortly after starting my job as a CPA and consultant with PriceaterhouseCoopers (I was with Coopers at the time), I began a practice of Zen meditation with a martial arts grandmaster. Though I was a competitive athlete growing up and in college, meditation was new to me, and at 21 years old it had a powerful neuroplastic effect on my mind’s development. What I experienced as a result of extended practice over several years was increasing clarity and ability to see how the choices I had made subconsciously had driven me into this career that I did not feel inspired by. So I began to challenge all of my assumptions and see them as biased. Then I pondered different questions, such as what is my true purpose or calling in life? I found that what I was called to do was serve as a warrior and leader… and the SEALs became my new focus. This experience taught me the powerful truth that we must all align with our calling, or what Buddha called “dharma,” to find true fulfillment in life.

 

Think Like an Elite Warrior

The subtitle of your book is “Think like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed.” A powerful statement. How is our thinking directly tied to leadership?

We are all leaders and followers… leading our family, our corporate tribe or ourselves. Whether we do it well is another issue. To think like an elite warrior means to train your body-mind to be able to excel in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. All Special Operators become masters in “VUCA” environments, and the business world is becoming a lot like the battlefield of the Spec Ops warrior (albeit less risky). If the corporate and entrepreneurial leader can learn to find clarity amidst the uncertainty and take powerful action in spite of ambiguity, then they will lead and succeed at an elite level.

 

Leadership Tip: Find clarity amidst uncertainty. Take action in spite of ambiguity.

 

Lead from the Front

How A Team Can Do Big Things

What Makes a Team

A group of people does not make a team. That’s something that any business leader figures out quickly. You don’t just rattle off names and put people in a room and voila!, have a team.

A team, especially a highly-effective team, is a leadership challenge. When a team is working, it delivers extraordinary performance.

That’s the focus of Craig Ross’s work and his new book, DO BIG THINGS: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make an Epic Impact . He is CEO of Verus Global, where he designs and delivers lasting solutions that transform leaders and teams.

I recently asked him about how a team can do big things.

 

Why are teams performing below their potential?

Teams don’t fail because they lack the technical talent they need to succeed. Also, they don’t fail because the members of the team aren’t good people. More often than not, teams flatline before they reach the finish line because they aren’t practicing human connection skills. They lack the ability to work together. It’s that simple.

It’s heartbreaking because it’s so common place: Organizations throw talented, experienced, successful people together, call them a team, and then expect them to team together in talented ways. But it doesn’t work that way, because connecting effectively as human beings is a skill.

 

“Teams flatline before they reach the finish line because they aren’t practicing human connection skills.” -Craig Ross

 

Consequently, teams with immense potential suffer from DSD: They’re Distracted, hopelessly Stressed, and Disconnected from each other as teammates and their purpose. As a result, these teams perform below their potential.

 

Characteristics of a “Do Big Things” Team

What are the characteristics of a team that can do big things?

Most teams have the right ingredients to succeed, such as talent, resources and customers. What they often lack, however, is a recipe to bring the talent and resources they have together. After spending over 65,000 hours working with and studying teams around the world and reviewing the research available on this topic, we’ve discovered that recipe. It consists of seven steps that create the thinking and actions that occur consistently in teams that achieve and deliver remarkable objectives.

That recipe is called The Do Big Things Framework.

 

How does a leader ensure that the team gets their whole heart in the game or they “flatline” as you say it?

Leadership Lessons from a Walk Across Spain

Learning from the Camino

 

“The Camino is the ideal training ground for leaders.”

That’s the line on the back liner of the book jacket that pulled me into a surprising story. How to practice leadership with “a pilgrim’s heart, a wayfarer’s grit, and a navigator’s gift for reaching the destination.”

Exactly.

Reading leadership consultant Victor Prince’s book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain , was a way to take that journey without actually walking that far. For the hours reading the book, I walked with Victor and took in the lessons and applications for leadership. Victor graciously talked with me about his journey. Before his leadership work, Victor Prince was previously the COO of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a strategy consultant with Bain & Company.

 

“It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” -Francis of Assisi

 

Make the Leadership Decision

Why did you decide to do the “Camino”?

I do long distance hiking and biking trails as a hobby. I focus on trails that are long and have accommodations along the way and don’t require camping. The Camino meets both those criteria, and I finally got to it when I was able to take a month off during a sabbatical. The Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez film, The Way, also got me interested. I knew the trail had ancient roots, and many people got an epiphany when walking it, but I was more focused on it as just the next trail I would check off my list.

 

Leadership Lesson: tell your team about your goals and the reasons you are pursuing them.

 

You received a passport for your trip with 7 leadership lessons that struck you. As you made the journey, how did these impact you?

At first, I was focused on the main purpose of the pilgrim credential (pilgrim passport), which is to collect the stamps from hostels along the way to prove you walked the route. As a goal-driven over-achiever, I loved the daily sense of accomplishment I got with each nightly stamp. I only noticed the list of the 7 values pilgrims were asked to live by while on the Camino after a few days of walking. They captured the spirit I found in other pilgrims. They were simple things like, “Make others feel welcome,” and, “Think about those who will follow you.” They also struck me as exceptionally thoughtful values to follow even while off of the Camino. As I had alone-time walking, I reflected on how these values would have been helpful for me to live by in my past roles leading teams at work.

Copyright Victor Prince, Used by Permission

Would you share an example of how perspective can change on this journey?

One of the values is, “Welcome each day – its pleasures and challenges.” While walking an average of 15 miles per day for a month, a pilgrim on the Camino experiences many challenges as well as pleasures. I learned to put challenges into perspective. My most challenging day on the Camino came after a 24-mile day that resulted from a mistake in my planning. When I started the next morning, I was tired, sore and grumpy as I stared at a big hill I had to climb. It was a hot July day. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this whole walk. ‘What on earth am I doing walking across Spain?’ I asked myself. I slogged on and when I got about halfway up the hill, I saw a marker for a pilgrim who had died on that spot. That put my challenges into perspective. I realized that, while this was my worst day on the trail, this adventure was something I knew would be difficult but that I had chosen to do. That made me realize that a bad day doing something I love is still a good day. When I got to the top of the hill, I snapped this picture which changed my life. I used this picture to headline my blog about the Camino that went viral around the world and led to this book.  The fallen pilgrim named on the marker never made it to see that view, but he inspired me and I dedicated this book to him. The leadership lesson I learned from this is to put bad days at work into perspective.  A bad day at work is better than a good day without a job.

 

7 Values to Live By

  1: Welcome each day, its pleasures and challenges

  2: Make others feel welcome

  3: Share

  4: Live in the moment

  5: Feel the spirit of those who have come before you

  6: Appreciate those who walk with you today

  7: Imagine those who will follow you

 

Lessons from the Camino