Updated: Mar 2, 2022
One of the most profound ways to experience a shift in letting go is changing how your interact with people. It may come as no surprise to you, but typical conversational behaviors in business are actually unhealthy. Even though we may intellectually understand this limitation changing our conversational habits takes effort. It starts with recognizing your own opportunities for improvement.
In what ways are you listening to connect with your customers and team members?
What positions are you holding on to and why?
In what ways do you receive guidance from your higher self?
Are You Addicted to Being Right?
I come from a family of know-it-alls. Well educated and informed, it is not unusual for arguments to ensue over who is right. Unfortunately the point gets completely lost in these moments. As the conversation digresses we each focus on framing and defending our positions. None of us are even mindful of what we are really talking about as we each strive to be the victor.
Regardless of your familial upbringing, this addiction to being right is pervasive and reinforced in our society. You either get the answer right or wrong on a test in school. If you are not right at work that means you have made a mistake, which could result in being scrutinized or even punished. We reward people for being right and we penalize them for being wrong, which coincidentally does not create a culture of learning.
I have seen the devastating effects our addictions to being right has on our entrepreneurial efforts. Everyone else is to blame when we fixate on being right. I often hear startups and established companies alike complain about their customers’ lack of engagement or followthrough. It is always someone else fault. If only they could see it our way.
Here’s a newsflash for you, your customers do not have to see it your way. In fact, they will move on before they stop to see it your way. It’s painful sometimes, it hurts to realize even though you thought you had it all figured out that you really did not. It even feels like failure, but it is better to realize it and move on then to be doomed like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a rock uphill that just falls back down again and again.
I tried to convince potential clients about the importance of creating a culture of learning a few different times after I had this epiphany. It often fell on deaf ears and I felt devastated by the lack of interest for companies to invest in this area where I saw a great need. Here I had thought I finally figured it out. After years of struggling to define my unique value proposition in this business, I was excited because I believed I had found my niche. Indeed, my sense of clarity did not pan out as I had hoped but I have benefited from capturing that intention.
There is a difference between being addicted to being right and maintaining your boundaries. I am not saying you have to listen to the feedback everyone provides you. I am not suggesting that you compromise your integrity to build your venture. As I reflected on my own efforts and the purpose I strive to fulfill I realized that Creating Cultures of Learning was in fact a guiding principle for my business.
Priming for Conversations
Cortisol is the hormone that engages your Amygdala. Commonly referred to as the Lizard Brain, the Amygdala is hard wired to react to fear. We have all experienced times we were triggered and unthinkingly uttered a defensive or hurtful remark, that’s an Amygdala hijack. Luckily, there are things you can stop doing to avoid causing an Amygdala hijack.
Researchers have also identified that there are certain conversational habits, like showing concern for others, that release oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin, commonly referred to as the love hormone, causes us to form bonds with our conversational partners and build trust. It also engages your prefrontal cortex, which allows us to have higher level conversations.
The second component of priming is reflection. This will likely not come as a surprise, but I like to prepare for conversations by writing in my journal. I will typically ponder questions such as: What is going on? What is really important to me here? What am I trying to accomplish as a result of having this conversation?
Reflecting on such questions gives me clarity so that I may separate my feelings from my needs. It also helps me to distinguish between emotional triggers and the boundaries I need to uphold to fulfill my intentions. It is so much more effective than preparing for a conversation in my mind.
Whether you do it intentionally or not, you likely prime yourself for difficult conversations. Most of us prepare by playing out a conversation in our minds. You think about what you want to say, then you imagine that person’s reaction. Which is usually negative. That story you played out in your mind poises you to go into the discussion already feeling defensive. The kicker is, most of the time the argument you end up making is totally disconnected from point you want to get across.
Listening to Connect
One of the simplest and most powerful practices of Conversational Intelligence that I have witnessed is listening to connect.
Think back to a recent conversation that stands out in your mind. I bet, while the other person was talking you were thinking…about the solution, wondering why they are telling you this, planning your response. When you’re thinking like that you are not listening to connect.
You let go of judgmental thoughts when you are listening to connect. Instead of reacting to what another person is saying in your mind, you seek to understand it. You let go of your inner chatter and focus more on your feelings. I like to pay attention to how I feel in my body, like getting goose bumps.
Listening to connect is harder than you might think but also easier than it sounds (haha no pun intended). It can be difficult to turn the voice in your head off. But when you do, I find that conversations take less energy. In fact, listening to connect is way easier when you’re too tired to think.
Not long after I started practicing listening to connect I meet someone for coffee for the first time. It was a cold, rainy day, and I felt exhausted. I wondered how I was going to get through this meeting with my lackluster energy. My conversational partner laid a bunch of big questions on me right away and I was having a hard time stringing together a sentence.
So, I focussed on listening to connect. I asked question after question. And I just listened intently for over 30 minutes. As if struck by lightening, I suddenly had a response to the big lingering question that opened our conversation. What I was afraid would be yet another draining meet and greet ended up being an energizing conversation. It was all because I let go of trying to look good and focused on listening to connect.
Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith Glaser
Glaser has conducted over 30 years of comprehensive and cutting edge research looking at how communication impacts our relationships and our brain function. Applying the neuro-science of conversations, Glaser has developed a systematic process for improving the communication skills of leaders, departments and entire companies so that they may engage in co-creational conversations. She shares her insights and lessons learned in this groundbreaking book, which is a must read for any leader seeking to build a team of collaborators.