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.
“There is no way you can use the word ‘reality’ without quotation marks around it.”
– Joseph Campbell
If you’ve attended my workshop or heard me speak you know I emphatically declare that the first curiosity skill – testing your perspective – is the most significant behavior in the conversational capacity discipline. I spend more time explaining it, and providing examples, than with the other three skills combined. It’s that important.
Here are excerpts from my first two books that explain why:
“Our Similarities bring us to a common ground;
Our Differences allow us to be fascinated by each other”
– Tom Robbins
Arguing: As Counterproductive As It Is Common
A sure sign that ego has triumphed over effectiveness, arguing creates a major drag on performance in our teams and organizations. Yet we see it all the time: people dismissing the views of others while zealously hawking their own opinions. These fruitless arguments, and all the bickering and bullshit they produce, are a clear signal that conversational capacity is in short supply.
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. It’s a vital competence, but this capacity is hard to maintain. All too often we behave in habitual ways that diminish it, with unfortunate consequences for our success and productivity – both individually and as a team.
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.
In Conversational Capacity I explained why mindful awareness is such an important aspect of remaining purpose-driven and learning-focused under pressure:
“Since deliberately balancing candor and curiosity requires you communicate more mindfully, activities such as meditation, yoga, or meditative running that strengthen our awareness are powerful ways to increase your competence. My recommendation is this: If you don’t have a regular mindfulness practice, start one. If you do have one, keep it up. “Mindful Awareness Practices,” or MAPS, as they’re called (putting a new spin on the term “mental MAPS”), help sharpen your capacity for self-awareness. And since you can’t manage a reflex if you’re unaware of it, developing a part of your mind that is able to watch your behavior in the moment is essential.
In my model of emotional intelligence, grit falls under self-management, one of four essential leadership skills. The others are self-awareness – which is the basis for managing yourself – and empathy plus social skills.
– Daniel Goleman, “Teach the Key Ingredients for Leadership Success”
As the sad debacle at General Motors continues to unfold I find myself asking questions about the company’s culture. How did a problem like this continue for so long? How many people spoke up when they first learned about the problem with the ignition switch? If none did, how many people spoke up when it became clear the problem was a serious threat to public safety? Did someone at least finally raise their voice when it became clear that people were dying because of the problem? And, if people did speak up, did they do so productively, in a way that sparked more learning than defensiveness?
You’ve Got A Team Full Of People As Smart As Crick And Watson. So Why Does It Perform Like Dumb and Dumber?
“One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothin’ can beat teamwork.” – Edward Abbey
While sitting in his boardroom a frustrated executive blurted out to me, “Some of the brightest people in our industry sit around this table. But you’d never know it from our performance. It’s embarrassing. What the hell is wrong with my team?”
He was wondering, in essence, “Why do I have a dumb team full of smart people?”
“You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.”
Charles de Gaulle
The Importance Of Strategy
“Management’s business,” says Joan Magretta, “is building organizations that work.” Central to this task is formulating an effective strategy that aligns everyone around the answers to these three questions:
- “What are we up to?”
- “What are we up against?”
- “What capabilities do we need to deal with it all?”
This article was co-authored by Nina Cherry.
Few things inspire less confidence and provoke more fear than a boss who cannot control his or her emotional reactions. Since our inherent responsibility is building organizations that perform at their best, whenever we behave in ways that that makes it hard for our people to bring their A-game to the enterprise, we’re failing at our primary job.
Some organizations consistently achieve technical excellence; many more do not. Why? With technology advancing at an ever-accelerating rate – and as the cost of getting it wrong makes it ever more important to get it right – this is a critical question for any technology-based organization. And while there are many contributing factors, there’s one pivotal aspect of technical excellence that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
One way to dramatically improve how your team works is to develop a conversational code of conduct; a shared set of agreements for how you’ll work together, how you’ll hold each other accountable, and how you’ll catch yourselves and self-correct whenever someone loses discipline and starts to slide back into old habits.
If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’
– Dave Barry
John Kenneth Galbraith said “meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” This isn’t because meetings are unnecessary. They serve an important purpose in any organization or team, providing a place to share information and ideas, to make decisions and solve problems, to formulate strategy and orchestrate change.
What is Conversational Capacity?
Conversational capacity is the ability to converse in an open-minded, even-handed, evidence-based, and learning-focused way under pressure. It requires those who are participating in a discussion to balance their candor with curiosity, and their courage with humility. It’s a foundational competence. A team with high conversational capacity can address their most pressing challenges in a healthy, productive way. A team with low conversational capacity will derail over a minor difference of opinion. Conversational capacity isn’t just another aspect of teamwork—it defines it. A team that cannot talk about its most pressing issues isn’t really a team at all. It’s just a group of people that can’t work together effectively when it counts.