Have you ever been in a conversation where you may have engaged with the best of intentions – maybe you wanted to talk to the other person about solving a problem or tackling an issue – and somewhere along the line you got triggered, or they got triggered, and the conversation went south?
And you ended up having to do damage control and maybe you even had to go back to them later and try to restore the relationship.
We’ve all had those situations happen.
Regardless of whether you’re involved in selling to a customer, giving feedback to a team member, engaging with your managers or stakeholders, or even interacting with your intimate partner or a family member, the way we connect with others is through conversation.
This is a skill you really want to master!
American researcher Judith Glaser has done some interesting work in the area and written a book called “Conversational Intelligence”.
Glaser explains that conversations can be divided into three levels:
- Level 1. Transactional conversations – these are conversations where I want to share information or make requests. I want to connect with you and I’m listening, but in a very transactional or functional way because I want to achieve a specific outcome from this conversation. I’m not really taking time to understand what’s going on with you or to engage with you at a very deep level emotionally. It is a transactional conversation, and we engage in these multiple times every day.
- Level 2. Positional conversations – I might be trading on my authority or seeking to exert influence over you. I am looking navigate an issue or a problem and might want to advocate a particular solution or position, or I might be wanting to enquire a little more deeply about your position or understand what you know about the situation. Positional conversations go deeper than transactions ones and basically seek to influence an outcome.
- Level 3. Transformational conversations – these are growth conversations where we are seeking to collaborate on a problem and co-create a solution that considers a range of positions or perspectives. We are listening at a much deeper level, seeking to really understand the different opinions and views that are presented, and then working with all the different players to develop a solution that involves everyone.
The challenge we have in trying to create level 2 and level 3 conversations is that in order to engage at this level, people need to feel safe. They need to trust that they will be respected, heard and not judged.
When we feel unsafe or criticised or judged, the brain generates cortisol and that shuts down the pre-frontal cortex or executive brain, which handles higher order thinking. This means that we are chemically constrained in our ability to think creatively or engage in an emotionally constructive way or even to be collaborative.
You’ve probably been in meetings where someone is asked a difficult question or even ridiculed in some way and you literally see them pull back into their shell and reduce their level of engagement. As a result, the group missed out on what they had to say and they lost the opportunity to contribute.
This kind of dynamic is not going to help generate the level of conversations that we need in order to powerfully create solutions for the future.
Here are some tips to help you intentionally create safety so you can support other people to engage with you and enable more transformational conversations that encourage collaborative and creative outcomes.
- Listen without judgement – really invite input and make it safe for people to offer diverse opinions and perspectives. When people feel accepted and that their ideas are welcomed then they’re much more willing to engage.
- Set ground rules for sharing and discussion by saying things like, “in this meeting there are no bad ideas or stupid questions – we really want to hear what everyone has to say.” This will further reinforce the sense of safety that people have and make them more willing to share ideas about which they might not be confident.
- Find points of commonality and build rapport – look for things you have in common with others or use ice breakers in meetings to help people relax and get to know each other better so they feel more comfortable to engage.
In environments of low trust, people are resistant and sceptical.
Your ability to develop an environment of high trust where people feel safe to engage will determine the degree to which they are able to experiment, collaborate and co-create.
If you’re serious about raising your conversational IQ, download my CREATE Framework for mastering difficult conversations.
It will give you the key steps and principles to make your difficult conversations happen more smoothly and constructively, which means you’ll feel more confident in tackling the big issues and leading more effectively.
To your success!