When I share my views on the importance of conversation, I often feel they fall on deaf ears. We talk about stuff all the time, so what’s the big deal? An HR leader in a Fortune 100 firm responded “We don’t just talk about things, we get things done around here'”. It is interesting that we imply conversations are wasteful. That only taking action matters. It is easy to take a lot of action and not be clear on where we are going. Now that seems wasteful to me.
What do I mean by ‘conversation’?
When I talk about conversation, I am talking about creating a meaningful and engaging connection with another person. I like Judith Glaser’s definition from her book ‘Conversational Intelligence‘:
Conversations evolve and impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, enabling us to shape reality, mind-sets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way.
Judith does a great job of describing much more than the spoken words. We have the power to shape mind-sets and realities, to reach agreement on a new perspective.
I was introduced to the importance of conversations by my first coach, Scott Blessing. In one of our early conversations, Scott told me: ‘My success as a leader is a factor of the conversations I am having, not having and how I am having them’. I quickly learned he was right. And for me, it is more about the conversations I am not having.
These are conversations I know I need or want to have but the time never seems right. They are the ones where the risk of a negative outcome is high. They are better left unsaid or delayed until the time is right. The problem is it never gets any easier and some conversations never happen.
A story comes to mind to illustrate the impact of missing conversations. An under-performing colleague was let go when we faced a reduction in staffing levels. Nobody was surprised, except this person. He hadn’t been told he was under-performing and he didn’t get a chance to do something about it. I assume he was never told so as not to upset him.
I invite you to reflect on your missing conversations. If you are like me, I bet you can name a few. What is the impact of not having that conversation? Will it get easier or harder if you continue to not have it? Is this the time to be courageous and say what needs to be said?
I am working on this. It isn’t easy, but it is also not as hard as I expected.