Would you like to have higher-quality conversations? Within your team, with your boss, with your customers… or even in your family?
Then you might need to be brave. The highest-quality conversations probably won’t emerge from your comfort zone.
Judith Glaser has a nice model of three levels of conversational quality.
- Level I: Tell-Ask. Transactional, exchanging data and information
- Level II: Advocate-Inquire. Positional, working with power and influence
- Level III: Share-Discover. Transformational, co-creating a successful future.
It’s those Level III conversations that are going to change things. They’re the high-quality conversations we should be aiming for.
To get to Level III, we need to get beyond groupthink. We need to get people really talking, really speaking their truth, really showing up.
That means we need to create psychological safety – a key to high-performing teams, according to research at Google.
Inc defines psychological safety as “A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers create safe zones so people can let down their guard.”
Most people are most comfortable when they are surrounded by people who seem similar to themselves. You like people like yourself. Difference can be scary. Group members tend to seek out similarity, find things in common, and minimise the appearance of diversity.
But these “safe zones” can’t be the same as “comfort zones”. Not if you want those high-quality conversations. Not if you want to foster creativity and innovation.
These safe zones are places where it’s psychologically safe to be different.
In these safe zones, “A leader needs to amplify people’s differences, because they are what produce a richer and more robust marketplace of ideas.” (Linda Hill et al, Collective Genius)
So what, specifically, can you do to safely amplify differences? Here are my 5 top tips for higher-quality conversations.
I’m imagining you’re the leader of a remote team, meeting via video call. But the same principles work in lots of situations.
- Listen to, and acknowledge, what people actually say. For example, repeat back some of their words. That tends to create an atmosphere of mutual respect.
- Make sure everyone speaks, including the quiet ones. That may mean you need to put someone “on the spot“. Do it gently! Start small. But do it.
- Ask lots of non-judgemental questions to tease out differences between individuals’ experiences and opinions. Clean Language questions are good for this. Get other people asking them, too.
- Explicitly invite difference. Say that’s what you want. Ask questions such as “Who’s not like that?” “Who’s got a different opinion/idea?” “Who’s thinking something different?”
- As the leader, delay stating your position on a topic for as long as possible. If you speak first, the chance of other views emerging is dramatically reduced.