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 Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others

influence

Bring Out the Best

As leaders, we are often wondering what the best way is to bring out the best in our organizations. We want to help people exceed all expectations and accomplish more than they thought possible.

Yet, the current feedback mechanisms and performance appraisal processes in our organizations often don’t work toward that goal. In fact, Tim Irwin, author of Extraordinary Influence: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, argues that they do just the opposite. Tim Irwin, PhD is an author, speaker, and leading authority on leadership.

I recently asked Tim to share his perspective on negativity and criticism at work.

 

“Leadership is influence-nothing more, nothing less.” -John Maxwell

 

What are a few things we often get wrong with criticism in the workplace?

Our brains are hardwired to detect anything that threatens our physical or emotional safety. When a person senses criticism, it engages a “negativity bias” in our brains and generally shuts down the parts of our brains responsible for creativity and problem solving. This is just one reason the often-used term “constructive criticism” is such an oxymoron.

 

Research: Science has revealed that affirmation sets in motion huge positive changes in the brain.

 

Avoid Words of Death

What are Words of Death?

The workplace, and society in general, are filled with critical words and phrases. For example, in some organizations, the phrase “One Throat to Choke” is used to describe the need for accountability on a project or other initiative. While maybe colorful and entertaining at some level, the use of these words and many others diminish us, at least at an unconscious level. Leaders routinely use statements such as, “I’m going to hold your feet to the fire,” (a torture method in the middle ages) to motivate employees and presumably to get them to work harder. Our brains thrive on affirmation not threats.

 

Research: Affirmation activates areas of the brain associated with calmness and openness to new ideas.

 

If we are on the receiving end of them, what can we do to limit their impact on us?

If it’s our present boss, we may learn some valuable lessons about how not to lead and motivate others. If a “Words of Death” culture prevails in our organization, we may need to consider, “Do I want to spend 40 to 60 hours a week or more in such a toxic environment?”

 

Share an example of “alliance feedback” that works to bring out someone’s highest potential.influence

Recently I met with a senior officer of a company who had some significant deficits in “Emotional Intelligence.” I could have said, “You have the empathy of a fence post, and no one trusts you.” Those were actually true statements. Would he have heard my feedback and acted on it in a conscientious manner? Doubtful. Instead, I said, “I know you aspire to a larger role in your company, and I think that is a worthwhile and achievable goal. In order to realize that aspiration, I recommend you work on collaborating with your peers more effectively by appreciating the challenges they face in reaching important goals.” What ensued was a very productive conversation about specific actions he could take to collaborate more effectively. He was eager to learn and not defensive in the slightest. The research is compelling that connecting feedback to personal hopes and aspirations bypasses the part of our brain that stays in hyper defense mode.

 

3 Faces of a Leader

How To Turn Culture Into A Productive Force

Cultivating A Winning Culture For Your Business

A strong productive culture is a superpower behind every long-lasting success. Culture demands artful management and everyday care, which seem to remain a mystery for many. How do you turn corporate culture into a productive force and secure success?

In CORPORATE SUPERPOWER: Cultivating A Winning Culture For Your Business, author Oleg Konovalov discusses what culture is, its functions and roles, why it is important and how to fix it when it goes wrong. The book offers a step-by-step guide on how to manage this incredible asset. Oleg is a management consultant with rich experience of running businesses in different industries and countries. His book is an exceptionally well-done overview of culture and how to turn it into an asset for any organization.

I spoke with Oleg about the book and his findings.

 

“Culture is a measure of success and a cause of it.” -Oleg Konovalov

 

Why do you think culture is getting so much attention these days?

We are well into the Knowledge Era, a time for new thinking about people, and appreciate that everyone has a stake in building the future. This is an era of a competition of corporate cultures, not processes.

Culture influences people’s actions, vision, minds, and hearts. In fact, an organization’s culture is its soul, and whoever controls the culture controls the soul and so, organization.

No company can move further than its employees’ competencies, where strategic development is bounded by the development of people. A successful implementation of corporate strategy directly depends on the active involvement and constant improvement of everyone.

Organizational culture is the most crucial ingredient of success, giving life to all of its many processes. Strong culture stimulates the enhancement of productivity by homogenizing the best psychological qualities of employees, the sense of unity and belonging, internal cooperation, and employees’ loyalty. Also, sustainable development depends on an organization’s ability to attract and retain the best people.

 

“Culture influences people’s actions, vision, minds, and hearts.” -Oleg Konovalov

 

Why Leaders Must Care for the Culture

How Mirror Moments Can Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness

mirror moment

Lead Your Career

Mike Rognlien is the founder of Multiple Hats Management, a leadership consultancy. Prior to founding his company, Mike spent fifteen years learning while working at Facebook, as a consultant to Microsoft, and at numerous other companies. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the L&D team at Facebook. After reading his new book, This Is Now Your Company, I reached out to him to continue the conversation.

 

“Culture is the sum total of all the things that every person in the organization says or does in the process of getting things done.” -Mike Rognlien

 

Your book about the Facebook culture was released right after Facebook was in the news for its questionable privacy practices. The question many may ask now: Is Facebook really a culture to emulate? Why?

It’s a fair question, but I’d start by saying it’s about much more than any one company’s culture – it’s about the individual’s role in their organization’s culture and how they can really own it. That said, I think that every company makes mistakes, and every company is going to face challenges based on real or perceived issues. Being on the outside of the company now I can say that I was really proud of how Mark and other senior leaders from Facebook handled themselves and continue to handle themselves. They apologized, accepted responsibility for mistakes, directly confronted misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions and have already made some pretty sweeping changes to how the platform operates. I’ve done leadership development work for a long time and think that this is what we want leaders and their companies to do when they mess up.

 

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” -George Bernard Shaw

 

Improve Performance with Mirror Moments

What’s a mirror moment and how can they be used to improve our performance?

One of the things that is consistent in the learning field is the push to reflect – and rightfully so. It’s a powerful development tool that we all have available to us at all times. In a 24/7 news cycle / instant meme-ification culture, I think it’s become even MORE important to do this because we are constantly getting so much outward signal (likes, comments, engagements, etc.) on how others see us that we can forget that it’s really important to know how we see ourselves. In so many programs I’ve developed or led over the years – on hard conversations, on bias, on leadership – much of my time and energy has been getting people to stop looking outside of themselves for approval and validation (or blame when things go wrong) and to instead constantly look inward to understand how what they’re saying and doing is impacting the results they’re generating. We need feedback from other people, absolutely, but we can make that process so much easier if we’re willing to have that first hard or reflective moment with ourselves.

 

How prevalent is Organizational Stockholm Syndrome? What can be done to reverse it?

How to Navigate the Digital Tsunami

Digital Tsunami

The Age of Surge

What do Netflix, Spotify, and Google have in common? They all learn, innovate, and continuously adapt better, faster, and cheaper than traditional companies. Moreover, they use digital technology to innovate, disrupt, and grow in radical and dynamic ways. That’s how they surge ahead of traditional companies.

In THE AGE OF SURGE: A Human Centered Framework for Scaling Company Wide Agility and Navigating the Tsunami of Digital, organizational experts Brad Murphy and Carol Mase show how companies can leapfrog the competition by transforming not only how they develop products and services but also the organization itself around the digital paradigm.

“Leaders need to nurture a new value system that says your value to the organization should no longer be anchored to your job title or role.” -Brad Murphy and Carol Mase

 

How to Use Surge to Your Advantage

What is “Surge” and how do you use it?

SURGE is a framework that provides the tools for navigating complex adaptive challenges in large corporate businesses. The digital marketplace continues to be highly disruptive to the ways that companies engage with customers, innovate, and remain relevant. The traditional approach to navigating disruptive change has been to seek out a prescriptive formula and apply it to the whole company. The journey of transforming to a digital enterprise, however, is not a process upgrade or best practice adoption problem.

In our work with large companies, what we saw as a consistent point of failure is them seeking a paint-by-numbers formula—agile process frameworks being a classic example. Despite making significant financial and organizational investments, they’re still not producing the customer experiences we expect from digital native companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google. We saw a clear need to help leaders recognize that this is a journey, not a reboot. Digital has changed the dynamics of the marketplace forever.

 

“Digital has changed the dynamics of the marketplace forever.” -Brad Murphy and Carol Mase

 

How do traditional companies versus digital native companies differ when they view impending change?

The most profound difference is that digital native companies are designed for change. Traditional companies are not. If you are Amazon or Google, one of the fundamental principles is that the space you are seeking to deliver products and services into is subject to continuous change. Therefore, the organization itself needs to be competent in enabling this change to occur. Companies can no longer accurately predict the future. They must learn to co-create products and services with their customers by evolving rapidly with them.

Contrast that with most traditional companies that have built a legacy based on a physical experience. Banks have branches, car companies have manufacturing plants, retail stores have buildings. Physical things take a long time to plan, build, and establish. As consumer preferences have increasingly shifted to adopting digital platforms, these companies have bolted on the veneer of a digital experience. Their preference is to avoid change. So you have a conflict between consumers who have gone digital and the fundamental structure of the business, which was built for a physical world.

 

“The ability to role shift is essential to a successful business in a digital world.” -Brad Murphy and Carol Mase

 

Thrive in the Midst of Uncertainty