Conversations are your organisations primary vehicle for turning strategy into action, goals into profit and insights into experience. Yet research consistently shows most Leaders and Managers lack the fundamental skills to hold high-quality conversations.
That means that conversation quality is limiting both business performance and workplace relationships – every day. Yet these skills are very learnable
These are five tips that we offer in our leadership programs and workshops to help leaders and employees stay constructive in any conversation about any topic with anyone.
The five rules for a constructive conversation:
- Conversations are an inner game
- Park your own stuff
- Prepare 3 words
- Roll with the resistance
- Value relationship
RULE 1 – CONVERSATIONS ARE AN INNER GAME.
We have to accept 100% accountability for our behaviour in a conversation. No exceptions. How other people ‘show -up’ in the conversation should not influence how we behave. If someone gets defensive, is rude to you, or is critical of you – that doesn’t give you licence to get defensive or to be rude back.
If you are waiting for everyone to behave perfectly in their conversations with you, you give away your power, and you will spend your life blaming other people for how you behave
RULE 2 – PARK YOUR OWN STUFF
We carry an enormous amount of ‘stuff’ in our minds and in our hearts. Our minds are literally crammed full of thoughts, judgements, biases, preferences, emotions, and knowledge. Our hearts often carry frailties, griefs and desires. Any of these can get in the way of connection, and conversation quality if they are given the driver’s seat in a conversation.
For example, when our personal judgements about others lead a conversation overtly or ‘leak’ into the conversation, they feel judged, and that damages our relationship with them, usually leading to sub-optimal outcomes.
Stay focussed on the conversation – the actual words being said in the conversation – not on the dialogue in your head. Practice parking it.
RULE 3 – PREPARE 3 WORDS
One of my favourite practices for any conversation is to prepare myself by choosing 3 words that are my standard for how I want to behave in this conversation. My 3 words for this blog are Informative, Succinct, Simple. My 3 words with my children are Calm, Kind, Light
By choosing 3 words we create a self-set standard that we can recall during a conversation that helps us to stay constructive and behave in ways we are proud of.
RULE 4 – ROLL WITH THE RESISTANCE
When we get defensive often the underlying belief behind our defensiveness is that we think being angry, or defending our position will somehow change the situation or outcome. It rarely does. We can’t achieve anything worthwhile from a position of defensiveness. When we behave defensively, we have dropped below the line – that is, the invisible line of personal accountability. It usually all goes downhill from there
If you find a comment or action offensive, instead of getting defensive, ask constructive questions about it. Such as can you tell me more about ABC? Could you explain your thoughts about ABC so I can understand?
RULE 5 – VALUE RELATIONSHIP
Someone once said to me “You can’t win an argument in a long-term relationship,” meaning that if you score a cheap point today, your relationship pays the price tomorrow or the day after.
If you work with someone for months or years you will most likely have dozens or hundreds of small and big conversations with them over that time. Some of these will be face to face, others via email or over the phone. The sum of your relationship with them will be largely be determined by how you have behaved in all of those conversations.
Play a long game, enter every conversation with the perspective of building a long-term relationship that is capable of weathering disagreement, failure and conflict as well as success, achievement and growth.