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Five Powerful Conversation Strategies to Add to Your Talking Toolbox

October 25th, 2009 · No Comments


It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.      – Yogi Berra

Talk is everywhere these days – talk radio, opinion/editorial shows, YouTube, blogs, newsletters, Twitter, reality TV, meetings, presentations, the news. Talk, talk, talk – everyone sure has a lot to say. The question is: are we talking at one another – or inviting others into a conversation? And, if we decide to converse, will we have an insightful and thoughtful exchange – or just a gripe fest?

By being purposeful and intentional about our conversations, we have an opportunity to not just talk to or at each other – but to connect, create, learn something new, find some common ground, and maybe even get something done.

If you’re less than satisfied with the quality or tenor of talk in your work and life, here are five powerful conversation strategies to add to your talking toolbox today:

  1. Conversations for Reflecting
    When we have a reflective conversation, we look back to learn from an experience of shared importance. By exploring multiple perspectives on the shared experience, we can develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of what happened, why it happened and what we may want to do differently the next time around. Reflective conversations are often used to create “lessons learned” that can be used to improve performance. An example of this might be an After Action Review following a significant event or project – or as part of a quarterly or annual planning process.
  2. Conversations for Exploring and Understanding
    The goal of dialogue is to share and grow by listening and learning from different perspectives. Dialogue requires us to suspend judgment, balance advocacy and inquiry, test our assumptions, reflect on what is being said, disclose our own truth, and be open to both/and thinking. When in dialogue, it’s important to listen for shared meaning – and recognize the creative edge where opportunities, ideas or concepts emerge from the collective. In dialogue, our conversation partner is not an adversary or someone to be won over to our way of thinking – he or she is an equal to be understood.
  3. Conversations for Connecting
    Often, when I teach a class or begin a new project team, I start by asking my students or colleagues to share a best-ever experience that relates to our topic. For example, in a high-performance team workshop, I may ask students to break into pairs or small groups and share a personal story of when they were part of, or led, a team that they considered to be “high performing.” Afterwards, we debrief and, together, come up with some common attributes that the group associates with a high-performance team. We then discuss how we might incorporate them into the team we’re now forming or a current team of which we may be a part. According to award-winning storyteller and facilitator, Noa Baum, sharing our personal stories helps us to connect with one another on a deeper level.  It creates trust, leads to collaboration, expands our ability to handle complexity and changes attitudes.
  4. “By creating an environment where people listen not to opinions or concepts but to experience, storytelling allows us to put aside our judgments and explore our differences in a non-threatening way.”

  5. Conversations for Generating New Thinking and Ideas
    Generative conversations engage us in looking forward. They are used when a group intends to create something new or innovative together – a new understanding, an innovative approach, a new relationship, an innovative process, product or service. As participants offer their distinctive perspectives, a fertile environment is created to nurture the best thinking of the group. From the best collective thinking,  new connections and innovative possibilities emerge. While brainstorming is a familiar tool to generate lots of ideas, a structured conversation process, such as one based on the World Café can be used to bring people together in conversation around questions that matter – to them, to their organizations and to the world around them.
  6. Conversations for Action
    With a clear objective and a game plan, conversations for action help us move from think to do in areas directly related to our goals and strategies. In the Fast Company article, Natural Leader, Rayona Sharpnack, founder of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, uses the analogy of a football game to illustrate this concept.

    “You have to know how to have what I call ‘conversations for action.’ Everybody spends time in meetings where there’s a lot of talk and not a lot of action. That’s because we don’t identify which kinds of conversations result in performance. For instance, in a football game, you have a conversation going on in the huddle. The quarterback says something like, ‘Okay, drop back, pass protection, sprint out right, pass on two.’ That’s a set of instructions. He’s asking that the front line form a V-shape protective shield around him so that the other team doesn’t crush him. He’s requesting that the two folks on the end go down the field, cut across it, and wait for him to throw them the ball, and he’s promising that he’s going to drop back, kind of veer off to the right, and throw a pass to one of those two people. That’s a conversation for action.

    There are other conversations going on at the same time. There are people in the press box who are saying, ‘Well, there’s Steve Young again. The last time he was in this situation, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ Nothing that they say has any effect on the game at all. Then there are the people in the stands who are saying, ‘Gee, I really don’t like these hot dogs. The ones at Price Club are so much better.’ Not a bit of influence on the game. Well, the same thing happens in organizations. People are having conversations for action. They are attempting to move the organization into the future, or to move the product into the marketplace. And then there are the other people who are sitting in the stands or sitting in the press box who are talking about what could or should or would have happened.”

    With all the talk that’s going on in your world, what kinds of conversations are you having? And, if you don’t like the conversation you’re currently in, why not change it?
  7. I’ll be facilitating a Learning Leaders Café next month at Seton Hall University’s Learning Leaders Symposium 2009 . Based on the World Café process, this pre-symposium workshop provides participants with a unique opportunity to dig deep and think big together about questions that matter.

    [tags] conversation, organizational storytelling, World Café, Fast Company, Noa Baum, Seton Hall University, communication, Rayona Sharpnack, leadership, After Action Review, dialogue, YouTube, Twitter [/tags]

Tags: Communication · Contribution · Engagement · Experience · Story & Narrative · Strategies