CIVILITY IN THE WORKPLACE ONE CONVERSATION AT A TIME

Slam! The palm of a hand comes down hard on the table top. “Enough!” frustration erupts from one side of the conference room. The room falls silent, stunned.

In another room across town, the wave of a hand, dismisses a new idea and “moves us on.” In the mind of that direct report, whose thinking and insight were so casually dismissed, creativity shuts down. Embarrassment and frustration take root.  Around the table people take note: “It is risky to bring an idea to this table.”

Around the corner, a CEO paces the floor, and with wringing hands wonders how to bridge the growing revenue gap. What new idea or opportunity might infuse the organization with needed energy and capital? How will they face the mounting liabilities? These questions remain locked in a worried mind.

Meanwhile, back in the first conference room a chorus of whispers arise as the meeting concludes.

“Wow. What was that?”

“That is the last time I stick my neck out here.”

“Guess he finally got his, didn’t he?”

“About time.”

Inside the minds of each of these leaders, decisions are being made. Some stop contributing. Some spend their creativity elsewhere. Some will stir the pot of dissention and conflict. Some will check out and find another outlet for their passion, somewhere else to fulfill their purpose.

Have you ever witnessed one of these scenarios?

Each one describes a situation in which a different conversation could have taken place.

There are consequences for all our conversations. Each one we have, all day long.

As leaders, the consequences are significant.  How a leader steps into a conversation makes all the difference.

·       Will we open people up, or shut them down?

·       Will we build trust and resilience on our team, or will we be destructive with our words?

Learning to curate conversations well is a primary skill for successful leaders, which is why I spent the last year becoming certified as a Conversational Intelligence™ coach. Conversational Intelligence™ is a neuroscience based approach to leading and facilitating conversations which equips leaders with a base of scientifically grounded knowledge about conversations with a set of conversation practices that are designed to shift the neurochemistry of the participants from fear to trust, from corrosive conflict, to constructive candor.

It was a terrific and demanding experience. We studied the bio-chemistry and neuroscience of conversation, we curated conversations, and we were evaluated by our peers. All of us grew skills that will serve us and the leaders we coach for a lifetime, and I was reminded once again that it takes practice, patience, and persistence to have a meaningful conversation. These types of conversations are rewarding on many levels. In a business setting these rewards hit both our bottom line and drive our internal and external reputation as pace-setters.

Of the many tools and tactics we learned, there was a common practice at the root of every desired outcome, whether the situation was:

·       To mine a roomful of people for their best idea;

·       To create energy and enthusiasm on teams that have suffered a loss or setback; or

·        To rebuild trust after harsh words.

What was the common practice? The starting point?

Listen.

Learning to foster Conversational Intelligence™ takes time and a commitment, and it all begins with listening. Quieting the mind and opening the ears. Listening is an art that takes practice. To listen we offer our silence and ask our minds to think not about our response, but to instead imagine the world through the eyes of the speaker.

·       What is happening for them?

·       How is this experience they now share shaping their beliefs?

·       How might past experiences have shaped the beliefs that are interpreting the experience being recounted?

Right or wrong in their ideas and interpretation, people need to be heard before they are willing to change their thinking. Listening is the gift that opens up conversations, and gives rise to understanding.

Listen and Then…

Follow your listening not with a statement, argument, or view, but rather with a curious question.

Judith E. Glaser, the creator of Conversational Intelligence likes to say it this way:

“Ask question for which you have no answer.”

Ask a purely generous question. By that I mean a question that is not trying to convince someone else of your worldview, but rather a question that guides you and the speaker to discover something together neither of you knew before. A purely generous question changes the emotional climate of a room.  

On the other side of that experience is greater trust, respect and, best of all, some common ground upon which both of you can stand.

I wish you well as you curate conversations in your life and work today.

Listen. Be curious. Ask questions. Savor the answers. If you succeed, the person will become curious about you too, and trust will begin emerge from out nowhere.