Emily Cosgrove and Sara Hope explore the power of conversation in business.
Reading time: 3m 30s.
American business magnate Warren Buffett continues to share his wisdom at the age of 88. While much of it is focused on investment, one particular quote caught the attention of Marcel Schwantes, writer for Inc. magazine: “The best way you can improve yourself is to learn to communicate better. Your results in life will be magnified if you can communicate them better.”
While this advice makes absolute sense and sounds simple enough, we often underestimate the importance of good communication and conversation skills in growing trust, building empathy, influencing others and, ultimately, selling our ideas.
Conversation happens at every moment, in every company yet it is often one of the most under-rated and under-developed skills, even though it carries the greatest potential to impact organisational culture, performance, brand and engagement – both positively and negatively.
The way we as leaders talk to each other, person-to-person; to our clients and customers and to the other people within our organisation sets the tone and cultural norms at a foundational level. What we do know is that people are now craving a different kind of conversation in business – an honest conversation where they feel heard, included and valued.
Communication and business performance
Research has repeatedly pointed to a relationship between how people are managed, their attitudes, behaviour and levels of discretionary effort, and business performance.
Conversation happens at every moment, in every company yet it is often one of the most under-rated and under-developed skills
Coaching, mentoring and an increased focus on authentic leadership have all been cited as vehicles that help move us towards improved employee engagement, and these all rest on the ability to have skilful and honest conversations which grow trust and shared purpose.
Conversations are how we connect – at work, at home, with friends, with colleagues, with clients. They are the golden thread that can either work for or against us. They can lead to trust or distrust; make us feel threatened or safe. They are the lifeblood of organisations.
Appreciating how conversations can work for or against us and how they can trigger different parts of the brain, can help us understand why it’s important to develop our Conversational Wisdom.®
Conversational Wisdom is learnable, and is necessary to build more human, productive and sustainable organisations. Based on research  into leadership conversations, it provides a structure that helps leaders improve their leadership capability from a conversational perspective and, by doing so, develop better organisation-wide connectivity.
The model (Fig.1) defines three essential conditions for anyone looking to engage in a meaningful conversation – being human, being aware and being skilled. Conversational Wisdom is having the vision to recognise these three components and use them purposely to achieve a desired conversational outcome.
As human beings we are all driven by basic needs for meaning, human connectedness, for understanding, empathy and feeling that we are valued and heard. We are all inherently emotive. This means that whatever and wherever the conversation, our emotions provide a huge part of the framework we use to communicate effectively.
Being tuned into the different elements of your Conversational Wisdom can help.
Four steps to better conversation
- Become more self-aware. Peter Drucker, the ‘father’ of modern management, once said: “You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.” This is true when it comes to conversations. Awareness helps us to be mindful of the unspoken elements that inevitably come into play in our conversations. From our unconscious biases, to power dynamics, to the assumptions we may have already made.
Being aware means that we know how we’re turning up to any conversation and ensures that it stays true to our intention – even over time. Giving time to consider what thinking we could do in advance helps to inform ourselves and be ready to have the best conversation possible.
The capacity to be aware of how you show up in a conversation is critical. Paying attention to what we each bring to the conversation in terms of mindset, emotion and behaviour enables us to capture and bust some of the assumptions that it is human nature to make.
It is important to understand that our given title or position within an organisation may be perceived by others in different ways. People will almost certainly hold assumptions about us, who we are and what we believe.
Likewise, we will almost certainly do the same about others. Staying aware of this (unconscious bias) helps us to have more open, effective and valuable conversations with greater empathy and understanding.
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About the authors
Emily Cosgrove and Sara Hope are co-founders of The Conversation Space.