Someone once said that all of life is a conversation. I agree. Often the conversation is in our own heads where the dialogue never seems to end. Sometimes the conversation is between intimate partners or parents and children. Conversations go on in organizations all the time between leaders and followers, teammates, sales teams and customers, one department with another...and on and on the talking goes. Since this seems to be a de facto reality, it would behoove all of us to be capable of having world class conversations. So much time, energy and opportunity are missed because we’re having suboptimal discussions.
So, what makes for great conversations? This chart outlines a vision and path to the kind of conversations we need, and sometimes want, to have:
I developed this chart years ago when I was spending a great deal of time working with financial firms, especially with asset managers. Research had come forward to prove that teams outperformed individuals, even and especially star performers. But for teams to outperform, one thing they needed to have was great communication. What I observed was that teams achieved great communication when they became masterful at candor and curiosity.
In organizations where both candor and curiosity are low, the conversations will be either filled with drama or there’s no communication at all. This dysfunction usually exists where there is tremendous mistrust. Cumulative trust ruptures that go unrepaired lead to poor or absent communication. Like the couple who simply has nothing to talk about except the trivialities of life because the trust bank is zeroed out, teams can end up in the same place if they aren’t committed to restoring trust when it breaks down.
This is what I saw in many large bureaucratic organizations or teams that valued civility and politeness over healthy conflict. In some cases these organizations were known to have great cultures where people stayed forever. But my experience was that they had very little edge and felt flabby as they allowed themselves to slide into complacency. They lacked the energy and capacity to challenge one other and themselves.
In the extreme, this scenario feels more like a food fight than a winning team; there's lots of heat and not much light. One such organization I advised had the view that if you don’t fight for what you want you won’t get what you want. In these organizations “conviction” was what was most valued. What this looked like was arguing passionately for one’s point of view. Those with the most conviction were seen as the A players, even though they were horrible listeners and even worse learners. Over time these cultures get taken over by bully personas and alpha animals. One great loss is that the brilliance of introverts is lost because their communication style is not perceived to be blunt and forthcoming enough. These organizations can burn bright for awhile, but they usually burn out because sustainability becomes an issue.
These cultures are best in class in my book. They take root in organizations that value speaking and listening in a way that encourages vibrant and meaningful dialogue. Competitive debate characterizes these cultures.
What I discovered and continue to discover is that there is a conversation beyond even competitive debate. I call it conscious communication. Here are the characteristics of conscious communication:
What I’m pointing to is that conscious, world class conversations are achievable, but not natural. We learn through committed diligent practice and a deep willingness to grow in consciousness, to wake up to what is. The Conscious Leadership Group stands for these kinds of conversations becoming the new norm for individuals, partners, and organizations world wide. Will you join us?
Several readers of the above Going Deeper commented that the diagram and the description were not clear. Thank you. I take 100% responsibility for that. For those of you who would like more clarity, read on and for those of you who thought it was great as it was, enjoy it as you understood it.
A few points of clarification:
The pathway to this radical conversation is through the descriptions listed for candor and curiosity.
So, my desire is that this clarifies and answers the questions several of you had and, if not, I’m happy to keep the conversation going. All conversation is an opportunity for me/us to practice.