Are You Guilty of these Conversational Sins?

We are in conversations every day, and these conversations define our relationships and influence our impact both personally and professionally.

We’ve grown up thinking conversations are about talking, sharing, telling people what to do, or telling others what’s on our minds. We are now learning, through neurological and cognitive research, that conversations go far beyond mere exchanges of information.

Conversational Intelligence® is focused on shaping conversations in ways that elevate and activate the networks for growth, empathy, wisdom, intuition, strategy, and other high-level capacities hardwired in our human system. In this framework, conversations take place at 3 Levels. At each level there is a successful approach as well as a “sin” – an unhealthy mindset or blindspot that derails the purpose of the conversation.

Level I – Transactional (Asking and Telling). This is a basic exchange of information, with an intention of sharing and confirming what you know. The purpose is to inform, and a healthy mindset enables you to validate what you know.

  • Sin: The tell/sell/yell syndrome. If you fall into the trap of telling more than you listen or ask questions, you lose the opportunity for clarity and will never know what you don’t know!
  • Skills for success: Build the habit of inquiry. Cultivate your ability to ask open-ended questions and a ‘give and take’ approach to conversation. When you are sharing information with an openness to feedback, you allow the opportunity to bring clarity or learn something new.

Level II – Positional (Advocating and Inquiring). The underlying intention of this type of conversation is to defend what you know by persuading or influencing others to accept your point of view. A healthy mindset focuses on seeking a win-win outcome and is open to exploring the other’s position.

  • Sin: Addiction to being right. When you are not open to considering other viewpoints and insist on being right, you eliminate the mutuality of conversation and shut down any opportunity to learn. This closed approach is characterized by an overuse of telling and a tendency to use questions to persuade, not to explore. It diminishes connection and undermines relationships.
  • Skills for success: Learn to share conversational space with others by remaining open to exploring possibilities and encouraging them to share their thoughts and opinions. You are free to accept or reject their position after seeking to listen to and understand it.

Level III – Transformational (Sharing and Discovering). At this deepest level of conversation, the intention is to discover what you don’t know. A healthy mindset holds space to explore unknown territory.

  • Sin: All talk, no action. There is a balance to everything, so an expansive conversation with too much ideation and not enough execution might be inspiring but is ultimately unproductive.
  • Skills for success: Ask questions for which you have no answers and listen with a focus on connecting. Attend to the other person and explore their world. What are they trying to say? What are they thinking? When ideas are generated, follow through with action.

You may have noticed that many of the conversational skills we mention revolve around asking questions. Next week’s Tip will share more about questions and how to determine whether your impact matches your intent in a conversation.

Source: the Conversational Intelligence for Coaches training that Donna had the privilege of taking under the late Judith Glaser. We highly recommend her book Conversational Intelligence.

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