Award-winning consultant, advisor, and speaker, Craig Weber explains why conversation is perhaps the most powerful tool we have at our disposal in creating positive relationships and productive teams.
We cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around us, says Jane Goodall. What we do makes a difference. We must only decide what kind of difference we want to make. She’s right. No matter our status or station, we can play a leading role in building healthier work relationships, teams, organizations, and communities. We can take action and have an impact. We can wield great influence. We have more power than we think.
To build our conversational capacity and use it to facilitate constructive change in our teams, organizations, and communities, we need to do more than just balance candor and courage with curiosity and humility. Another important balance to strike is between serious-mindedness and light-heartedness.
We don’t just rush into important situations with our thought-process half-cocked, making sense or making decisions in a casual, half-assed manner. We respond in a rigorous, serious-minded way. We’re disciplined, deliberate, and careful as we strive to make useful sense of the predicament we’re facing and how to improve it.
There’s More to the Sweet Spot than Candor and Courage Balanced with Curiosity and Humility.
As I reflect on people who have built their conversational capacity and used it to inspire constructive change in their teams, organizations, and communities, I realize that there’s more to the “sweet spot” than just balancing candor and courage with curiosity and humility. There’s a larger suite of counter-balancing traits by which they strive to operate.
People Respond to Problems in Two Basic Ways
“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
– Roberto Clemente
When faced with challenging problems in their teams, organizations, and communities, people respond in a variety of ways. At one end of the spectrum sit those people who shrink back and say, in essence: “Yes, it’s a big problem, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s not my job. I’m not responsible. I’m not in charge. I can’t make a difference.” People in this group often complain about problems, pontificating ad nauseam about what ought to be done, but they rarely stand up, get involved, or do something constructive to address them.
Conversational capacity refers to the ability – of an individual or a team – to have open, balanced, learning-focused dialogue about tough issues and in challenging circumstances. A vital competence, it’s crucial that we understand how we can build it.
Mental toughness—sometimes referred to as grit, gumption, or resilience—is key to effective leadership and adaptive learning. Why? Because whether you’re engaging thorny issues others fear to face, making important but undiscussable issues productively discussable, resolving heated conflicts, or striving to build more effective working relationships with people who aren’t making it easy, confronting the status quo in the service of meaningful progress is always hard work.
“It doesn’t do any good to have a lot of really smart people around the table if you can’t access their smarts”
Effective Teamwork And Conversational Capacity
For twenty years I’ve been conducting workshops, advising organizations, and coaching leaders on the importance of conversational capacity – the ability to engage in open, balanced, nondefensive dialogue about difficult subjects and in challenging circumstances. It’s a pivotal competence. A team robust conversational capacity can address its toughest issues in a responsibly rigorous, nondefensive way. A team with anemic capacity, by contrast, can see its performance derailed by a trivial disagreement.
Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress – Mahatma Gandhi
“Life is a series of problems,” observed M. Scott Peck. A more accurate statement was never made. But when it comes to solving them it’s important to realize that not all problems are created equal.
All our difficulties fall somewhere on a spectrum; at one end of this spectrum we find routine problems, and, at the other end, adaptive challenges. A routine problem isn’t considered routine because it happens regularly, but because we have a routine for dealing with it – a protocol, a process, or expert on which we can depend for a reliable fix. A routine problem may be irksome and expensive, but at least we’re in familiar territory and know what to do about it.
Trust is a matter of huge importance in a healthy team, project, or organization. But when it comes to the issue of trust and its relationship to teamwork, most people get it backwards. They see trust as being necessary for good teamwork – as something that must be in place before a group can work together and communicate well.