|by Judith E. Glaser
“To get to the next level of greatness, depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations!” – Judith E. Glaser
Everything happens through conversations.
It’s what differentiates humans from other species and enables us to develop and handle complexity and ambiguity, to evolve and grow, and to teach others what we know. Conversation allows us to build common languages, definitions, and meanings that in turn create community.
Conversations are the difference between trust and distrust, protection and innovation, exclusion and inclusion. Conversations are how we connect and communicate with others. Words are not the things-they are representations and symbols we use to see, think and process our perceptions of reality with others.
Yet few leaders understand how vital conversation is to the health and productivity of their culture. Unhealthy conversations are at the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal, and avoidance-which leads to lower productivity, innovation, and ultimately, lower success.
By understanding how language triggers different parts of the brain and stimulates certain habits and behaviors, leaders can develop their Conversational Intelligence to build healthier, more resilient organizations in the face of change.
A seemingly simple act such as talking with a colleague, a small momentary exchange of words in a hallway, has the ability to alter someone’s life permanently. Phrases like “I can’t do that!” and “If I only knew how!” may take only seconds to utter, but they can be life changing. There is little connection between the time it takes to say the words and the lasting impact they may have on a person, a relationship, or an organization.
Why do we need to understand Conversational Intelligence?
- Conversational Intelligence gives us the power to influence our Neurochemistry. Every conversation we have with another person is chemical. Conversations have the power to change the brain, stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, stimulate body systems and nerve pathways, and change our body’s chemistry, not just for a moment, but for a life time. At the simplest level, we say something and we get a response-I ask you a question and you tell me the answer. However, conversations can quickly become more complex as questions provoke thoughts and feelings about what you mean or your intentions, which stir the neurochemistry and chemical networks into action. If our questions feel threatening, we do more than answer; we activate networks inside the brain to “handle” the threat.
- Conversational Intelligence gives us the power to express our inner thoughts and feelings. As we communicate, we read the content and emotions being sent. Conversations are more than the information we share or words we speak. They are a way to package our feelings about ourselves, our world, and others. As leaders, we communicate sad or happy with almost every conversation. As we understand the power of language in regulating how people feel every day, and the role language plays in evolving the brain’s capacity to expand perspectives and create a “feel good” experience, then we can shape the workplace in profound ways.
- Conversational Intelligence gives us the power to influence how we interpret reality. Conversations impact different parts of the brain in different ways, because different parts of the brain are listening for different things. By understanding how conversations impact our listening we can develop the power to determine how we listen– and how we listen determines how we interpret and make sense of everything.
A Business Case for Mindfulness
How can you create the conversational space that creates deeper understanding and engagement rather than fear and avoidance? Take three action steps:
- Remember, be mindful of your conversations and the emotional content you bring-either pain or pleasure. Are you sending friend or foe messages? Are you sending the message “you can trust me to have your best interest at heart” or “I want to persuade you to think about things my way?” When you’re aware of these meta-messages, you can create a safe culture allowing all parties to interact at the highest level, sharing perspectives, feeling, and aspirations and elevating insights and wisdom.
- Remember, conversations have the ability to trigger emotional reactions. Conversations carry meaning-and meaning is embedded in the listener even more than in the speaker. Words either cause us to bond and trust more fully and think of others as friends and colleagues, or they will cause us to break rapport and think of others as enemies. Your mind will open up as you see the connection between language and health, and you’ll learn how to create healthy organizations through your conversational rituals.
- Remember, the words we use in our conversations are rarely neutral. Words have histories informed by years of use. Each time another experience overlays another meaning on a word it all gets collected in our brain to be activated during conversations. Knowing how we project meaning into our conversations will enable us to connect with others and, in so doing, let go of much of the self-talk that diverts us from working together effectively.
For more information on conversations, read The American Express Open Forum article entitled “When is Nice too Nice?”
Judith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is one of the most innovative and pioneering change agents, consultants and executive coaches in the consulting industry – and refers to herself as an Organizational Anthropologist.