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Conversational IQ for Mindful Leaders -
 5 Conversational Blind Spots

Conversational IQ

“Human beings are the most highly social species on this planet. When we succeed in connecting deeply with others—heart to heart and head to head—trust is at its all-time high, and people work in concert in extraordinary ways.” ~ Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, Inc., 2013

Conversations are more than a vehicle for sharing information. As social beings, our interactions involve words that trigger powerful physical and emotional responses. Our words can facilitate healthy, trusting conversations — or cause others to shut down with fear, caution and worry.

Bad conversations trigger our distrust network; good conversations trigger our trust network. This influences what we say, as well as how and why we say it. Our trust and distrust networks shape each conversation’s outcome.

Leadership Conversations

If you project positive intentions, your employees will likely respond to questions positively and feel more confident about taking risks and accomplishing tasks. When you offer support and praise, employees believe you trust them and will go the extra mile.

Negative conversations can occur despite our best intentions. Others internalize messages based on what they think we said — not our actual words. As Glaser notes:
“Unhealthy conversations are at the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal and avoidance —which leads to lower productivity and innovation, and ultimately, lower success.”

When you want to win and subsequently fight hard, you may go into overdrive as you persuade others to adopt your point of view. You push instead of attempting to pull others in your desired direction. If you try to win at all costs, your conversations will trigger others’ primitive fight-or-flight response. Your conversation partner’s brain will effectively shut down, and he’ll no longer be open to influence.

3 Conversation Levels

Leaders commonly rely on two types of conversations: telling and selling.

When telling, they try to clearly specify what employees need to do. When selling, they try to persuade them with reasons for doing it.

Employees may understand “what” to do and even “why” they should do it. But they’ll never fully engage unless they’re part of meaningful conversations that encourage connection, sharing and discovery.

The following table offers a graphic representation of Glaser’s identified conversation levels:
LEVEL ITransactional
How we exchange data and information
LEVEL IIPositional
How we work with power and influence
LEVEL IIITransformational
How we co-create the future for mutual success

Too often, we get stuck in Level II conversations because we’re addicted to being right. We fail to realize the negative impact this has on others. We may start out with an exchange of ideas, but we then become trapped in a power dance.

Only when we participate in Level III conversations can we transform ourselves and our conversation partners by sharing thoughts, ideas and belief systems. We realize that:
•  We shape the meanings our words have on others.
•  We need to validate our words’ true meanings.
•  Breakdowns occur when others interpret our words in unanticipated ways.
•  Breakdowns occur when we try to persuade others that our meanings are the right ones.
•  Breakthroughs occur when we take time to share and discover.
•  Breakthroughs occur when we co-create and partner to create a shared reality.

Conflicts commonly arise when there’s a reality gap (an opposing interpretation of reality). They trigger an array of fears that activate our distrust network. We begin to process reality through a fear-based (vs. trust-based) lens.

Conversational Blind Spots

Five common conversational blind spots plague us.

Blind Spot #1: False Assumptions

When we assume others see what we see, feel what we feel and think what we think, we’re operating with blinders on. If you’re engrossed in your own point of view, you can’t connect with another’s perspective.

Blind Spot #2: Underestimating Emotions

Words can trigger strong emotions: trust, distrust, excitement and fear. When this happens, we may misinterpret reality. If we feel threatened, we move into protective behaviors and fail to realize we’re doing so.

Blind Spot #3: Lack of Empathy

Fear prevents us from empathizing with others. We become insensitive to others’ perspectives and cannot hear important parts of the conversation.

Blind Spot #4: Making Our Own Meaning

We assume that we remember what others say. In truth, we actually remember our responses to what others say. A chemical process within the brain seizes on our responses to others’ words — and these responses form the basis of memory.

Blind Spot #5: Assuming Shared Meaning

We assume that the person speaking creates the message’s meaning. In truth, the listener decodes the message and assigns meaning to it. As a listener, you run a speaker’s words through your personal vault of memories and experiences and attempt to make sense of the conversation.

Two conversation partners can’t be sure they’re on the same page until they take the time to validate a shared meaning.

Improve Your Conversations

You can take several basic steps to enhance the quality of your conversations:
•  Slow down. A conversation is not a race.
•  Breathe deeply. Take appropriate pauses. Allow time to process conversations.
•  Check your emotions.
•  Ask discovery questions.
•  Validate shared goals and meanings.

You can develop these qualities by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put positive leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be more positive? Positive leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a mindful leader with high conversational IQ who helps individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more positive teams.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders cultivate conversational IQ. You can become a mindful leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage  and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman
 Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach

Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams



Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica.

The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.



“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching 



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