The Best Organizations Know How to Handle the Toughest Conversations

The organizational phenomenon occurs via the exchange of ideas in our daily conversations.  Without those conversations, organizations would cease to exist and give way to pure individualism, basic survival, and even anarchy.  Planning, coaching, and supervision, among other actions, all happen, partly or wholly, through conversations.

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In this regard, conversational skills are of the greatest value to all organizations. A good conversation reveals what is important, generates clarity, and develops trust. On the other hand, a bad conversation disregards what is important, generates confusion, and develops mistrust. If the members of a given organization do not know how to converse effectively, they will have a difficult time mapping the future, learning from the past, and exploiting the synergy potential among them. As a result, they will likely lag behind their vision, blame each other, face constant frustration, and, ultimately, experience systemic failure.

Leadership, Teamwork, and Conversations

Leadership and teamwork are likely the two most important organizational phenomena, and they too happen largely through conversations. The best way to help others develop self-awareness, commitment, and enthusiasm is by engaging them in well-structured, fact-based, inspirational conversations. Likewise, the best way to manage a team’s workload is by engaging its members in frequent conversations that are detail-oriented and provide room for feedback, learning, and performance improvement.

Therefore, every company that focuses on developing a culture based on leadership, team work, and high performance must strengthen the conversational skills of its members. Additionally, in order for conversations to have the best possible impact, organizations must also lay down a strong set of values based on humility, excellence, honesty, and responsibility.

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Conversational Protocols

Conversations tend to reveal the subtlest personality strengths and weaknesses of those who participate. In so doing, conversations reveal our actual levels of knowledge about specific subjects and our actual levels of maturity and emotional intelligence.

Over the years, I have participated in and facilitated countless conversations. Out of the conversations that failed, most did because of the fear, arrogance, or relational conflicts of its participants. In fact, when participants lacked the necessary technical knowledge but had high levels of maturity and emotional intelligence, they were most often effective at exposing the areas that needed improvement so they could successfully address them later. However, when participants had the necessary technical knowledge but lacked maturity and emotional intelligence, conversations were often sequestered by political agendas, secret alliances, and covert mediocrity that caused frequent failure and left objectives unachieved. Of course, when participants had both the necessary technical knowledge and high levels of maturity and emotional intelligence, the results were always positive.

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As a result of the aforementioned experience, I started putting together a conversational protocol aimed at helping participants navigate through their own personality weaknesses while leveraging on their own personality strengths. I wanted this protocol to be simple so it could be easily implemented. The main objective of this protocol is to help people handle difficult conversations in which the toughest challenges are relational and emotional rather than intellectual and technical.

The Protocol

1)     Establish a clear, shared objective for the conversation.

2)     Establish an agenda of topics leading to the objective.

3)     Designate a moderator who, on the one hand, will manage the agenda, and, on the other hand, will draw the connections between the points being made and the objective.

4)     Do not interrupt others until they are finished making a clear point—only the moderator can interrupt.

5)     Ask questions if you do not understand someone’s point.

6)     If someone interrupts you, make it clear for them that you are not finished establishing your point—only the moderator can interrupt.

7)     Do not insult others.

8)     If someone insults you, respond firmly, with dignity, and without fear while keeping your emotions in check. You have the higher ground and you must keep it.

9)     Do not let your opinions about others cloud your objectivity about what they are saying.

10)  Remember to use the 11 laws of systems thinking when addressing any topic in order for the conversation to render the best possible results.

11)  It is impossible to create a protocol that considers all possible scenarios. All scenarios not considered in this protocol you will handle based on your own levels of cognitive and emotional intelligence. There is always so much that happened before the conversation and so much that will happen afterward. The better you use the former and anticipate the latter during the conversation itself, the more effective you will be in it.

What Do You Think?

Now, it is your turn. What do you think about the importance of good conversational skills at work and in life? How does consciousness impact the development of conversational skills? How do our conversational skills impact our job performance? What happens to intelligence and talent in the absence of well-developed conversational skills?