As a leader you spend 80% of your time in conversation. Many leaders severely underestimate both the power of good quality conversation in getting things done and improving performance…and also how very ordinary we are at it. Here are five myths about business conversations that need to be busted!
Myth 1: I am good at communication and conversations
Conversation is a skill and an art and very few of us are taught how to use conversation to get the very best from the brains of others. Our role models and habits, not to mention the pressure of time and energy also mean that we resort to ‘telling and instruction’ as the predominant means of communication over a work day. The brain does not like being told what to do – even when an individual asks you to ‘tell’. When people are told or instructed – even if they ACCEPT and ACT ON the instruction, they will not OWN the outcomes.
Myth 2: What people say is the truth
Truth in itself is a myth. There is my truth, and your truth, and the version of truth that makes sense. People lie, for all the right reasons. Cognitive bias colours and filters the truth. Our past experiences and behaviours create the unique ‘wiring’ that drives future behaviour, and it’s not always based on an objective reality.
Myth 3: People know what they want
When I begin a coaching engagement, more often than not my ‘coachee’ arrives with their clearly documented ‘3 goals’ that they wish to achieve from the coaching. It usually only takes about 20 minutes to uncover that beneath those goals are some very different goals. We tend to think and exist on our ‘surface’ and it takes effort and skill to help people to delve beneath the surface to find out what people really want and need. But if you can, the rewards are plentiful.
Myth 4: Emotion is destructive
We avoid emotion, particularly emotion that we categorise as ‘negative’. There is no such thing as positive or negative emotion, it is our interpretation of emotion that categorises them. It is much more useful to view emotion as valuable data that can guide us to know the truth (see Myth 2) of what is going on for us. Learn to embrace and regulate emotion rather than avoid and suppress it.
Myth 5: Conflict is not productive
Conflict (in its useful form) is not only productive but necessary. I prefer to refer to conflict as Deliberate Debate and I specifically teach this in my Rewired Teams programs. If your meetings are a round robin of ‘sharing’ updates, then you are either missing a great opportunity for creative thinking and problem solving, or simply wasting precious time. The process of challenging and stretching our own thinking and the thinking of others – of not accepting at face value what is put forward (see Myth 2) and of leveraging off the thinking of others is the critical missing piece in many teams.
Five more myths to come in my next blog…
Have a nice day!
Yes, I read the books and yes, I’ve seen the movies. Moving right along…
I talk a lot. Often about myself, but more often than not about my plans, what I want to achieve, the next adventure I want to go on, or the next task I need to conquer. I’m a raving extravert so what happens on the inside, is totally expressed on the outside without much filtering.
My father will on occasions jump in and comment “It’s just all about you, isn’t it Michelle!”
Well, yes. Why wouldn’t it be?
But from my perspective it isn’t JUST all about me. It’s about an internal drive for perfection and achievement. It’s about appreciating the privilege of the life I have and making the most of it before I die. It’s about showing my kids what life can offer and giving them the confidence to be themselves in the world. It’s about so much that only I, who lives inside my head, can appreciate and understand.
To the outside world, I may possibly (no probably) appear a bit narcissistic. Making it all about me is not my intention, but it can certainly be the outcome from the experience of others.
The biggest mistake we humans make in conversation is that we become conversational narcissists. We make it all about us. Our intentions are good, but the impact can be quite different.
Now the problem here is that this is not only common and normal, but it is how we have evolved (or in this case, not evolved). Our survival instincts drive us to make it all about us – it’s how we are wired.
Unfortunately, it’s a major barrier as we come to understand more about the human brain and its motivating forces of threat and reward.
Are you a conversational narcissist? See how many of these you can tick…
During a conversation, have you ever thought to yourself (or out loud)…
☐ I know what they want/need…
☐ My idea is better…
☐ There is an obvious answer here…
Or have you ever said…
☐ Why don’t you just try this…
☐ What I would do is…
☐ Why haven’t you…
Or do you…
☐ Set and lead the agenda in meetings, or in a conversation for that matter…
☐ Assume that your team or colleagues have understood your instructions or requests… (only to discover later that they didn’t)
☐ Assume that your team or colleagues have the same goals or desired outcomes that you do… (only to discover later that they don’t)
Or even more importantly, have you been on the other end of a conversation or meeting where…
☐ Nobody asked your opinion or thoughts, or when they did, they didn’t take the time to dig deeper or understand your perspective
☐ You wasted your time because nothing in the meeting was of value to the issues YOU are currently facing
☐ You left the conversation thinking “Well, that was all about them!”
If you have ticked a few of these then you have engaged in, or been the victim of, well-intentioned conversational narcissism. Your drive to get things done, or to help others understand or achieve, overtakes the critical skill and process of supporting others to engage in quality thinking, to self-motivate and engage, to discover, learn and grow for themselves. You may also be missing out on valuable alternative perspectives or ideas, or preventing a useful challenge to your own one-sided thinking and perspective.
Leadership is about conversation, and we need to get it right.
You must begin to notice your conversational narcissism and deliberately move to a place of conversational humility – characterised by conversational curiosity! You don’t, and can’t know it all, so take some time to ask.
Here are 5 shades (sorry, not enough page space for 50 – but the book is coming!) of conversational narcissism that you might find yourself falling into, and a few tips on what you can do about changing it.
Conversational GREY – the AVOIDER
It all feels too hard, so you just sit in the background, agree, say little and avoid rocking the boat. You are scared to evoke emotional responses that may make you feel bad or challenged – defensiveness, anger, sympathy, embarrassment. You may even ‘beat around the bush’ a bit and avoid saying directly what you really want to say…sound familiar?
This is experienced by others as passive aggressive behaviour and they will experience much frustration.
Conversational RED – the REACTOR
You take everything personally and react to what has been said based on your past experience, your values and your future goals – none of which are known to others. When the conversation doesn’t go your way, your response is to walk away, or begin to just ‘tell’ so you can move on…sound familiar?
This is experienced by others as an inability to listen and they will give up trying to engage with you.
Conversational BLUE – the RESCUER
You are good at what you do, so when others are struggling, you know you can get it done faster and better yourself, so you take it on.
This is experienced by some as distrust or by others as an opportunity to pass the buck and take it easy. You will find yourself with too much to do and not enough time to do it.
Conversational GREEN – the HELPER
You are a great listener, and when others are in pain or experiencing difficulty in working through something, you want to heal the pain and just ‘save them’. You have a million different ideas, suggestions and solutions that you bombard them with. You feel great knowing that you have saved another soul from the depths of despair…sound familiar?
This is experience by others as confusion and overwhelm and they will feel more helpless.
Conversational GOLD – the PLEASER
“Yes” “I totally agree” “Really, she did that??” Relationship building is important to you, but your desire to connect deeply with others and be accepted into the ‘tribe’ can lead you to be a YESer.
This is experienced by others as weakness – or if they have narcissistic tendencies then you are simply feeding them! Nothing gained.
In all these shades, you are making the conversation about you – be that protecting yourself, defending yourself, or making assumptions about what others need or want from a conversation. Conversational narcissism shuts down thinking, fuels defensive responses, creates apathy and wastes time.
AND…you find yourself feeling like you are doing everyone else’s job for them, and you are frustrated by the lack of self-accountability and engagement in your team. People cannot NOT be engaged when they are doing the thinking and the talking – so change up the balance in respect of those two things.
So…start making conversations all about others…it has to be all about…THEM!
- Be a conversational facilitator not a consultant – trust that others know what they want or need from a conversation or meeting and ask them.
- Let others make the decisions about a conversation or meeting – What to focus on? What the outcomes need to be? How long to spend?
- Let others do the thinking – What is your perspective? What would be the best outcomes for you? What other perspectives or stakeholders should we be considering?
- Allow others to road test their solutions, even when you know it might not work
- Ask others if they want feedback from you, don’t just give it. And if the answer is yes, then ask what specific feedback they would like and how would they like you to give it.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t express your ideas or needs as well, but only AFTER others, and only if relevant to who has the responsibility for doing the thinking.
Essentially, a conversation needs to work for THEM if you are to get what YOU want – so ultimately, it comes back to being all about YOU anyway. Give these ideas a go in your next conversation or meeting and see what happens…
In a 1966 experiment, 22 nurses were unwittingly part of an experiment to test obedience to figures of authority. There were three ‘rules’ that the nurses knew they must obey when administering drugs to patients.
- They must not accept instructions over the phone.
- They must not exceed the limit stated on the box.
- The drug must be listed in the ward stock list.
The (not real) Dr Smith phones the nurse, introduces himself and asks the nurse to check for the drug Astroten – which was not on the ward stock list. They are told to administer double the limit on the box, and Dr Smith advised that he was terribly busy and would sign the authorisation later when he would be in the ward.
Administering the drug would mean breaking all three rules.
21 out of 22 nurses were willing to do that citing that they were unwilling to question the ‘authority’ of the doctor.
In another experiment by Stanley Milgram, participants were willing to administer significant and increasing electrical shocks to ‘actors’ despite being distraught and stressed, simply because the man in the white coat told them to.
Whilst socially, we are probably a little more willing to challenge authority than in the 1960’s, this psychological phenomenon is still a significant part of our DNA and can inhibit quality conversation, quality decisions, and quality problem-solving.
Traditional perceptions of authority inhibit the truth.
One valid strategy to lessening this negative impact of traditional authority is a bottom-up approach: to focus on giving employees and team members the skills and confidence to have those conversations, but unless the figure of authority (in most cases, the team leader) gives continued and express permission for this to occur, it is unlikely that any employee or team member who is even slightly concerned about the possible negative consequences of challenging the leader (emotional reaction, impact on performance rating, embarrassment or humiliation, rejection…) will speak up or challenge or refuse to act.
This issue must also be tackled from top down. Leaders must understand that every word, tone, and behaviour has a significant and long-lasting effect on those who recognize their position of authority. The brain’s trigger response to fear is quick and significant – in fact 5 times the significance of a reward trigger. And protecting ourselves is still, with our relatively primitive brains, important enough for us to defy and bias our logical reasoning and decision-making in favour of a perceived protective behaviour.
In other words, we may be quite willing to lie, cheat and hurt others in order to protect our own physical or social safety.
Teaching leaders about the nuances of human motivation, and the workings of the human brain provides them with a new and useful filter with which to communicate and engage others. Leaders MUST begin to see their role in organisations to amplify the human awesomeness of others, rather than focusing on their own pursuit of awesomeness.
Here are three things to think about if you are in a position of authority.
- Aim to NEVER put another human being in the position of having to make the choice between personal safety and doing the right thing. You should be present and aware enough to know when this is happening. If people are lying to you our of fear, that is your fault.
- Never stop working to build trusting, honest and open relationships with your team and colleagues. Get to know them. Be humble and do more asking and listening than talking. Learn to have powerful and useful conversations.
- Give your team and colleagues permission to challenge you. Statements like “I don’t have all the answers, I’m keen to hear your perspectives”, or “Please don’t be afraid to disagree with me – we need all the possibilities on the table”, or “Don’t try to make me like you, try to make me think!” And this can’t just happen once. Every meeting, every week – find a way to openly invite and appreciate honest and challenging feedback and ideas.
(detailed here: http://www.simplypsychology.org/hofling-obedience.html)
Have a great day!
Sometimes I feel like I just can’t keep up. The emails keep piling in, the kids continue to require attention (funny that!), my list of what I want to achieve keeps growing and therefore when I don’t achieve it, the let down is not fun.
Things are different to when I was younger – much much faster. We have always experienced change. Every successive generation longs to be back in the days when things were simple!
In recent times though, as things seem to have been moving faster, we have been referring to this as ‘accelerated change’. I think now, we can safely say we are in times of ‘accelerating change’…that is, the acceleration itself is accelerating.
What is my point?
As a species we are not accelerating our physical evolution – our brains and bodies are way behind in terms of keeping up. Of course this seems obvious, but have you really taken the time to reflect on and explore some ways to manage and lead in these times. Going faster and working harder just aren’t working.
For me this is both a mindset shift, as well as a time where we need to deeply understand ourselves as humans, and to apply a new filter to how we interact with and lead our teams.
Here are three things you can begin to think about in terms of leading – and I do refer to self-leadership as well as leading others – in order to better manage yourself through accelerating change.
- Understand how to truly optimise the use of individual and organisational brains. Developing a mastery in ‘execution’ – getting things done in the most brain-friendly way – can go a long way to squeezing much more out of a day without leaving you drained. This can be supported through a deep understanding of neuroplasticity – the way the brain learns and adapts. A tool such as PRISM Brain Mapping that focuses on the ‘economics of energy’ can be a useful support here.
- Focus on self-leadership. No longer can or should we rely on leaders to motivate and engage. I believe that we should all be taking responsibility for turning up to work as fully functional focused humans. That means investing in our own self-development and health – both mental and physical. This ‘if you want me to be healthy then you pay for my gym membership’ stuff doesn’t cut it for me anymore! And if you are a leader, you need to be an absolute role model for understanding and managing within the change environment – and that requires exceptional self-leadership.
- Make progress visible. If you have read any of Dr Jason Fox’s work, you will be familiar with this concept. I read somewhere the other day that ‘progress is the new performance’. Work is a game, and an unknown journey. There are only two points of focus that are needed – the end game – I’m driving to Sydney – and the next steps – let’s get to Byron Bay and decide where to go from there. This translates to having a bigger long term goal that meets two criteria: A 5, 10 or even 25 year vision, and a set of clear and simple priorities for the next couple of months is simple and effective. Then keep it visible.
Have a great day!
Whilst the great George Orwell in this infamous line was making reference to political irony, and also an acknowledgement of the futility of absolutes, there is some irony in how we view the conversations in our workplaces.
There are conversations…and then there are conversations.
I tend to label conversations in three ways:
Personal Conversations – the chit-chat and banter that focuses on non-work-related topics.
Business Conversations – one- or two-way conversations that do not progress thinking or creativity but focus on sharing information or giving instruction.
Professional Conversations – deliberate and powerful conversations designed to challenge thinking, create shifts, discover truth, engage and motivate (amongst other great things).
These are all equal in that they can all claim to be conversations, but in terms of their impact from a leadership perspective, each of them is more equal than the one before.
Personal conversations are great for building rapport, for developing trust over time, and for providing essential ‘brain breaks’, when future focused and positive in nature. These are important conversations to have, though are more intangible in their impact.
Business conversations are about instruction, information sharing and seeking to understand, and are a necessary part of everyday work. They make up a majority of work-related conversations in most organisations. They are more equal than personal conversations in terms of tangible business impact.
Professional conversations are a skill you can learn, and require a level of mastery in:
- Understanding Human Motivation, including an understanding of the science of insight
- Coaching skills and powerful questioning techniques
- Capacity for mindful attention and tapping into intuition and non-verbals
Here is an idea you can implement immediately (that means today) to have more Professional Conversations with your team.
We are all wired differently, and so cannot ever assume what someone else is thinking or how they process information. Yet we do this all the time, preferring to see the end result from own needs and perspective. Whilst this may be effective on the surface, in terms of motivation and accountability from the others involved, it falls short.
Shift your focus to letting others drive the direction and content of the conversation. Gently nudge and challenge their thinking, always with an open mind.
You should be in control of the structure of the conversation, but if you are seeking input and quality thinking from others, then ask them what kind of conversation is needed.
”We have to deliver this project by COB Friday, and we have 1 hour now to get our heads around it. What will be the best use of this time for you? (they answer, and it’s important that they go first)…Great, what I need is to be really clear on what the final document will look like. (Don’t be afraid to state what you need). Let’s figure out how to best spend this hour so we both get what we need.”
Find three opportunities today to do this. Start to REWIRE the way you enter business conversations and meetings and look to see if the level of engagement and insight in the conversations starts to improve over time.
Have a great day.
(If you want to learn to REWIRE the way you or your team has conversations, you might like to make contact, or attend one of my upcoming events. www.michelleloch.com)
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.