The statistics are compelling…
Leaders spend 80% of their time in conversation. On average, an employee spends around 37% of their time in meetings – which are essentially group conversations.
That’s a rather large percentage of the time spent in the workplace on conversations, and that doesn’t include emails and chats. And let’s face it, emails create work…skillful conversations get things done!
What I think organisations have still not been able to capitalise on is the enormous opportunity that this presents in terms of improving culture, performance and employee engagement.
EVERY conversation is an OPPORTUNITY….
- To influence and create insight
- To acknowledge the right stuff
- To check and redirect focus
- To test clarity and confidence
- To uncover discontent and confusion
- To manage emotion and non-useful reaction
- To get the truth
…and most of all, to create and support quality thinking through quality conversation.
Conversation is an art, and a skill. Developing powerful conversation skills in your leaders provides a surprising ROI in terms of the positive influence that they can have on the habits, thinking and behaviour of those around them, and over their own growth and development as well.
The conversations in your organisation are a clear predictor of the health of your culture – and all it takes is a little attentive observation to find the underlying patterns.
Here are five things to observe and assess.
- Listen to where the conversations are FOCUSED. Are they focused on the past or on the future? Are they focused on barriers, or possibilities?
- Watch the way people are LISTENING to each other. Are they waiting to interject with their own idea or solution, or are they being CURIOUS and taking the time to dig deeper and understand another person’s point of view or perspective? Are they finishing sentences? Are they doing other things while listening (think meetings and phones) or are they present and respectful to what others have to say with no agenda?
- See if there is more TELLING than ASKING in the conversations. Research tells us that in organisations 95% of the communication is ‘tell’ – yet people don’t like being told what to do! People feel engaged and respected when they feel like they matter, and that what they do matters. Do the leaders in your organisations care enough to ask?
- Look for the EMOTION in the conversations around your organisation. What emotions are prominent? What tone is evident? And are emotions ignored, or explored?
- And finally, are the conversations that you hear around your organisation USEFUL, or just interesting? Do they connect and relate to bigger goals? Are they distractions or procrastinations?
I’d love to hear what you observe in your organisation. If it helps, you can click this link to download a quick diagnostic for your organisations cultural health!
Have a great day!
Michelle Loch is the Founder and Director of Rewired Leadership. One of her signature programs is ‘Rewired Conversations’ – conversational mastery that combines neuroscience, coaching skills and intuition to give leaders the confidence and courage to have powerful and influential conversations.
Someone will always win – let it be you!
My friend ‘Harold’ and I were yesterday discussing the critical impact that conversations have on the culture and performance of an organisation. Harold is a highly respected and experienced businessman and consultant, semi-retired, and currently Chairman of the Board of a very large institution embarking on a necessary and significant cultural change process
Interestingly, he was lamenting the state of conversation he is experiencing across the board – in politics, in coffee shops, in business meetings and in Boardrooms. Harold came to Australia in the 1970’s – to a refreshing culture of boldness, larrikinism and authenticity which, in his observation, seems to have been diluted and sanitised to the point of non-existence – and in his opinion to the detriment of the culture of both our personal and professional worlds.
“You start a conversation over a coffee, and it ends up a whinge-fest and somehow you get drawn into it.”
And that’s called Emotional Contagion. It’s a real and powerful force. AND it operates predominantly below our conscious realisation.
Your brain is highly tuned to connect and align with the emotional states of those around you, and for good reason via some clever brain cells called mirror neurons.
Imagine you are not in the line of sight of some form of extreme danger, but your friend is. Your friend sees it, they become instantly fearful, and somehow you are able to instantly and intuitively pick up on that fear and feel it as well, without any form of deliberate or language-based communication needed and you respond accordingly. From an evolutionary perspective, this sophisticated human ability is quite useful in keeping you safe.
Emotional contagion is why you can intuitively ‘know’ when your child or partner is not happy, or that the manager at the end of the boardroom table is about to share something bad.
So when two or more individuals come together in two or more emotional states, there begins a battle. In this Emotional Contagion Battle, with the absence of deliberate and conscious overriding, the negative emotion will always win – for all the evolutionary reasons I’ve already mentioned.
And it is a difficult battle to win. It can feel a bit like yellow food colouring in a glass of water fighting to stay yellow when some black has been mixed in…! An uphill battle!
Sometimes, of course, this overriding negative view is necessary, but in our socially evolved and relatively safe business environments it gets in the way of the objectivity, logic and useful intuition needed for a great organisational culture to survive.
Now the evolutionary odds are against us here.
- Humans are born with a negativity bias – an evolutionary tendency to view the world from a negative perspective before a positive one.
- To save the expensive use of brain fuel required to think consciously, our brains encode and automate repeated patterns of thinking and behaviour – if you regularly see or engage in ‘whinging’, then your brain encodes (hardwired) that way of being.
- Engaging in those hardwired activities is easy and preferred by the brain – again under the brain fuel saving banner.
So, it’s hard, but only when we are not paying attention. And of course, for all the same reasons we can start to REWIRE and train ourselves to firstly, reframe to overcome our natural tendency to be drawn to the negative, and then, with full conscious deliberate-ness, WIN THE EMOTIONAL CONTAGION BATTLE.
Someone will always win – let it be you.
So let’s apply Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle to this…
We’ve started with WHY it is important for you to be on the lookout and deal with Emotional Contagion.
WHAT do you need to about it? You need to recognise it, check in on your own emotional state and assess its usefulness and, if necessary, reframe it. And then hold your ground to win the Emotional Contagion Battle
HOW do you do that? Three easy steps…
- Acknowledge it – call the emotional state of the other person or the group. Eg, “I can see that this is really frustrating you”
- Shrink wrap it – people need to be heard and validated. Ask them to succinctly express their concerns and then shrink wrap that into a phrase or idea or concept that represents it – then put it aside. Eg, “So it’s really about….”
- Redirect it – gently redirect the conversation to what can be usefully done about it, or to a more useful conversation entirely. Eg, “What specifically do you want to now do about it so you can move on…”
Master leaders understand this and consciously and patiently, and with permission, redirect the attention of their teams to places where positivity, creativity and engagement can thrive.
Have a great day!