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.