By Sara Sheehan, Executive coach and change consultant at Sara Sheehan Consulting
The context of our conversations provides a powerful indicator of where our hearts and minds are in our lives. How we interact with our colleagues will either help enforce a healthy team dynamic or create division. When seeking to drive change in organizational culture, consider applying appreciative inquiry, positive psychology, and really caring for the others in the conversation to yield dramatic improvement in employee engagement, performance, and productivity.
What Do I Need to Change in My Conversations?
Conversations Worth Having by Stavros and Torres (second edition) provides an outstanding framework for changing how we approach others, creating better relationships and improving organizational culture.
When going into important conversations, adopt an attitude of curiosity by asking open ended appreciative inquiry questions. Come from a place of possibilities rather than problems. When you do this, you are taking a positive approach in all that you say, ask or frame through the conversation. Seek to understand or innovate creative ways to improve any aspect of the business, whether it’s process, design, technology, or people related. Anytime you use appreciative inquiry in a conversation you’ll enhance the relationship, productivity, and performance of the other participants in the conversation. This provides a powerful return on investment of our time and new approach.
Real World Application of Conversations Worth Having
Here’s a scenario that may help bring conversations worth having to life. Imagine your company has been acquired. Many long tenured employees are transitioning to the acquiring company. As with many acquisitions, your company offers a competitive advantage in their products or services, but the company needs to improve processes and reduce costs.
In working with acquired, long tenured employees, use the principles of appreciative inquiry when engaging them on what made the company great, set them apart from competitors, and created a positive customer experience. Conversations worth having seeks to understand what made the organization great, characteristics of great customer experiences, and how the organization created community internally and externally. Asking questions with a positive slant that truly appreciates the other person and what they bring to the table will provide answers that generate ideas, building on what is already great in the acquired organization. This conversation is also going to be more productive and build trust.
The quality of our conversations determines how others perceive us and want to engage with us. Conversational Intelligence® is based on the book by the late Judith E. Glaser and I was lucky enough to get the Certification for Coaches in Conversational Intelligence® taught directly by Judith. It was a truly enlightening experience to learn from her lifelong career of research, consulting, and coaching. Judith had great success in driving cultural change in organizations by shining a light on how they worked together and the tone, emotion, and construct of their conversations. In her research and practical application, she was able to distill frameworks that help us understand what we need to do to have the best conversation possible in any situation.
What is Conversational Intelligence®?
Conversational Intelligence® is the hardwired and learnable ability to connect, navigate and grow with others. We need this type of intelligence to build healthier and more resilient organizations and communities in the face of change or disruption.
With Conversational Intelligence®, we are able to understand how conversations shape our relationships, partnerships, our culture and our reality. It introduces a roadmap for creating higher levels of trust, activating higher levels of employee engagement, strengthening partnerships, and catalyzing co-creation and innovation in relationships, teams, organizations, and cultures. As we connect with others in a positive way, it strengthens our ability to express our inner thoughts and feelings, as well as opens the door to co-creation.
Simply put, Conversational Intelligence® creates the foundation for trust, high-quality relationships, and business success.
Reach Your Highest Potential with Powerful Conversations
Reaching your highest potential at work requires you to be keenly aware of how you engage with others, how you build teams and create coalitions, and how you utilize your ability to lead and influence others. Even experienced executives need to strategically think through their approach for difficult conversations in advance. For tactics on integrating better, more effective conversations in the workplace, please see my top 5 strategies below:
- Ask positive questions that help you connect with the other person and build trust. Frame questions in a way that you are supporting the other person’s experience or expertise.
- When you are in a conversation, if you see an opportunity to go deeper, double click on the topic by asking a few more specific questions. See if you can uncover an opportunity to co-create a solution with the other person.
- If you are going into a difficult conversation, make sure you think about the topics you want to cover, set expectations for the roadmap of the conversation, and ask the other person to take a role in the conversation so that it’s two way. Use words that will frame where you are in the roadmap. Use positive language as much as possible to keep the other person engaged and listening.
- When you are in an emotionally charged conversation there’s nothing wrong with asking to pause the conversation and set new terms or boundaries for the next meeting. You might need to ask a question like, “Since this is getting a little tense, I’d like to ask that we pause and regroup in a week. I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas.” Getting the person to focus on ideas or solutions instead of problems can really help.
- Using formal rules of engagement for team meetings and one on ones can help keep conversations on track and productive. The rules of engagement need to be understood by all team members. They can be as simple as don’t interrupt when someone is speaking, use appreciative inquiry when seeking more information, or frame up the standing agenda for a meeting.
A few additional competencies to develop powerful conversations include emotional intelligence and empathy. Understanding and interpreting your own and other’s emotions, and then responding with poise, kindness, and understanding will help you to build solid connections. Awareness on these topics can help you take action to create a new reality around who you are and how you make a difference in your organization. As Judith E. Glaser said in her book Conversational Intelligence®, “Words create worlds.” When it comes to conversations, think strategically about how you can move any discussion forward in a positive way.
About the Author
Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance.
During Sara’s 25+ years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies and individuals. Sara specializes in change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design. As a collaborative, results-orientated coach, Sara provides support and practical feedback to help clients effectively navigate change and address business challenges. She also integrates coaching techniques, methods, and approaches to help her clients develop change capabilities and learn to apply them right away. With a servant leadership mindset, she supports her clients in building new skills and customizes frameworks to her client’s project needs. Sara works with clients based on her network, referrals, and appointment.
Sara has been featured both nationally and internationally on podcasts as an expert on topics of change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design.
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