Make Every Conversation Count

Improving the quality of your conversations can be the key to transformation.

Talk, talk, talk

How much of your day is spent in conversation? If you’re lucky enough to work in a service profession like education or health, chances are your days are filled with face to face interactions; many professionals have experienced the sore throat that comes from a full day of conversing with others.

For leaders, too, the bulk of their day is spent in conversation. A study of CEOs published in the Harvard Business Review found that they spend 72% of their time in meetings; this number would not be a surprise to most leaders.

Importantly, the study also showed that these meetings, particularly in one-to-one and small group settings, are a crucial part of a leader’s work, allowing them to build relationships and create momentum for action. Yet, there’s ample evidence – both anecdotal and from research – that our workplace meetings and conversations are often perceived to be ineffective.

So if conversations are indeed critical to our work, how can you contribute and make a real difference?

Critically interrogate reality

In her book ‘Fierce Conversations’, Susan Scott argues that for conversations to be meaningful and truly affect change, they need to be robust and address the real issues, even – especially – if that may be uncomfortable for us. Discomfort usually signifies something that is worth talking about: a problem that is not easily solved, or a conflict of values and beliefs.

This is why coaching conversations often incorporate a stage dedicated to ‘defining the problem’ – looking with a critical eye at the current situation, and surfacing the obstacles and challenges there. Scott argues that it’s only by thoroughly ‘interrogating reality’ – digging into the problem, looking at it from different angles – that we can move forward towards solutions.

In a workplace conversation, it can be easy to gloss over issues in the ‘too-hard basket’, or to skip too quickly to discussing solutions. Yet, this can mean we address the surface problems, rather than tackling the underlying issues. Over the long term, this can lead to us feeling that we’re hitting the same wall over and over again, a key factor in burnout. If we have the courage to ‘tackle our toughest challenge today’, we increase our self-efficacy, which in turn increases our capacity to confront the challenges we encounter in the future.

Be authentic and present

Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The discomfort and fear we feel in confronting difficult issues at work is quite understandable, and avoidance can become deeply embedded in the culture of an organisation. In one study, researchers examined the extent to which employees felt they had to put on an ‘act’ or express inauthentic emotion in meetings, and found profound negative impacts on meeting effectiveness and on employees’ emotional states.

A key argument made by Scott is that authenticity and presence are foundational to effective conversations. She says that we need to “come out from behind ourselves”. There are myriad reasons why this can be challenging, especially for leaders who may feel a need to project a certain persona. Nonetheless, Scott argues, when we acknowledge the weight and value of every conversation by being fully present and attentive, we can contribute to a robust conversation and open the possibility for real change.

Show respect

Underpinning Scott’s work is the notion that honest conversation both demands – and demonstrates – respect. It requires us to be aware of the impact of our words, and to use them with integrity. This is an ancient idea, but one that is still powerful. Trust is, after all, the foundation of relationships; it is earned, and can easily be lost.

When we approach our conversations with humility, we make space for the other person to reflect and think. We acknowledge that an exchange of words can be powerful – and that silence may be even more so.

What will your contribution be to quality conversations?

How Your Organisation can Benefit from a Growth Mindset

Your staff are all good at some things, bad at others and that’s just the way it is, right? Actually, it’s just the way it isn’t. Yes, but surely some people are limited in their scope for development; some are destined to be leaders, others are intrinsically followers. Wrong again; that’s a fixed mindset; a rigid viewpoint that can adversely affect your organizational growth.

 

Embrace the power of a growth mindset

The concept of a growth mindset was pioneered by renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck and has led to substantial increases in motivation and productivity in workplaces adopting its principles. With a fixed mindset you’re likely to view talent as something you either have or don’t have, yet a growth mindset proves that latent and new talents can be developed in anyone; all it needs is the right attitude. A growth mindset means today’s ‘Joe Average’ can be tomorrow’s star performer. A growth mindset means today’s failing math student can be tomorrow’s math professor or, to be more positively lateral, tomorrow’s renowned artist. .

 

A growth mindset means thinking outside the box

And by box, I mean pigeonhole, because that’s what we tend to do: we employ people based on a resume and background and we pigeonhole them according to their abilities. But what if that person peered out of their pigeonhole and started climbing into others, discovering new interests, new abilities and unexpected new gifts? That’s what happens when you and those around you operate with a growth mindset. How many stars is your organisation hiding behind rigid job descriptions right now? Free them to find their true calling by giving them the chance to grow into new areas.

 

A growth mindset gives everyone an opportunity

By adopting a growth mindset, Microsoft have completely rethought their employee development program. One innovation is an annual ‘hackathon.’* This gives every Microsoft employee, no matter what their position, the chance to generate ideas for any internal business sector they choose. If their idea is adopted, Microsoft funds it and a team is established to put it into action. Not only has a latent leader been found, but Microsoft has a hot new project.

 

A growth mindset recruits from within

It makes sense. As an organisation, you build a culture and team camaraderie based around people who know and trust each other. There’s a shared, well practiced understanding of your methods and ideals.  So while a fixed mindset instinctively hires from outside because they believe talent can’t be developed in their existing staff, a growth mindset promotes from within. A growth mindset recognises latent talent, passion for learning and overall potential. Not only does this give people working for you unlimited scope for growth, it builds powerful loyalty and employee engagement.

 

A growth mindset ignores qualifications

Well, not entirely, but how many times have you seen a job application saying ‘Must have university degree.’ Such demands can be associated with fixed mindset thinking. On the other hand, a growth mindset will be more interested in capable, independent thinkers and learners with a hunger for self-improvement. Free thinkers with passion and drive can often be your key drivers for success.

 

A growth mindset starts at the top

It has to. While many of your staff will be hungry for self-development, plenty won’t. In fact they’ll resist it for their own reasons. But to maximize personal and professional growth, we all need to get out of our comfort zones. We need to stop clinging to the tried and true and grasp the untested. We need to try new tasks, new skills and new techniques. Above all we need to accept growth as a process, expect to have a few failures along the way and be fine with that. A growth mindset liberates minds and frees entire organisations to be whatever they want to be.