“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:
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.
“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.
Mike Richardson is a thought leading expert on agility and the author of Wheel$spin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto. He is a scientist and engineer turned manager, executive, and CEO. Mike is also an award winning Chair with Vistage International, chairing 3 groups with over 50 members (CEOs and Senior Executives) and is also a Vistage Resource Speaker to other Vistage groups, nationally and internationally. He also facilitates CEOs and their teams to be more agile as leaders and as a business.
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?
A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another – C. West Churchman
Chris Soderquist is the Carl Sagan of systems thinking. Sagan’s genius lay not just in his keen scientific mind, but also in his ability to convey the power, fun, and usefulness of science to people who might not otherwise get it – and to do so in a contagiously engaging and enthusiastic way.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.