“The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened.”

William Whyte

Leaders are expected to be good communicators – we are hired, trained, and rewarded to effectively send and receive information. Our goal is to keep others in the loop, speak up at meetings, and tackle problems. So we are used to expressing our opinions first.

Let’s take a closer look – there may be plenty of communication happening, yet very little conversation.

Communication is often similar to a transaction: information is shared with minimal personal engagement. You receive an update at a meeting, read an email, or monitor others’ lives through social media.

Conversations offer mutual benefits, enabling us to build greater understanding and trust. They take time and entail risk, requiring vulnerability from both parties as they explore the facts and each other’s point of view. Conversations have unedited moments and unexpected opportunities to see things differently and better understand others.

Sometimes we need to talk.

• A top-performing employee is struggling with child care – you accept the challenge to stop by her desk and talk.

• A key client sends an email complaining about customer service – you pick up the phone and talk.

• Two employees are not getting along, and the work environment is suffering – you bring them to your office and talk.

Take a moment and look up from your screen – when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation at work?

Ineffective or neglected conversations create a message as well – an illusion that communication has taken place. Go to a restaurant and watch two people sitting together for dinner – smartphones blazing away. As we stare into social media postings about other people’s lives, perhaps with envy, we ignore the life across the table.

Eye to eye, not screen, is where we can do our best work.

So why don’t we have more meaningful conversations?
• In the past ten years the average attention span of adults has dropped to five minutes – humans are now less attentive than goldfish (who can focus on an activity for nine minutes).

• We drop out of conversations every 12 to 18 seconds to process what other people are saying, struggling to sustain concentration.

• Our internal listening and dialogue are more powerful than another person’s speech – our mind is made up and we concentrate on our own answer.
We have a limited attention span and we generally focus it on our needs. These obstacles can be overcome – one conversation at a time.

Three keys to having healthy conversations:

Pay Attention
One of my early mentors would clear his desk when I entered his office to have a conversation. His focus was on me and he always began by asking, “What is on your mind?” Unplug, listen to their needs, and collaborate to achieve your mutual goals.

Dialogue
Debate centers on winners and losers, while dialogue is about cooperation and respect. Build cooperation over competition by asking, “What do you think?” prior to selling your ideas. Your influence increases, not decreases, when others go first.

Conversations Beyond Work

A great conversation is a beginning, not an end. Reflect and learn from what happened – get feedback, adjust, and build a new habit. Practice your conversation outside the workplace, from family members to a coffee barista. Go beyond exchanging information. Your dialogue will send unintended benefits your way.

Someone is waiting to hear your voice – you need to talk.

All my best,
Todd


Recommended Reading

14 Ways to Approach Conflict and Difficult Conversations at Work
Forbes Magazine
July 17, 2017

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