• Ariana Friedlander

Struggling to maintain a competitive advantage? Here's 1 solution that's simple to implement.

When I first learned how to play disc golf, my throw was very inconsistent. My husband coached me by offering discrete tips for what I could do differently to improve my game. First, he showed me how to hold the disc flat so it didn't arc wildly into the air or dive immediately into the ground upon releasing it. As I got better at that, he encouraged me to snap my wrist so I could throw further. Then we worked on my stance. Bit by bit, play by play, my game improved.

If he had taught me the way I wanted, which was to improve in all areas at once, I would not have made the progress I did. I was impatient, wanting to play as well as him immediately. But he understood that I could only consciously practice one new skill at a time. So he broke it down for me, giving me something small and tangible to work on each time I played. As a result, I got much better, sometimes I even play better than him. The process for improving one's Conversational Intelligence is quite similar. There are a lot of components one must master to become Conversationally Intelligent. Yet you must choose one thing to focus on at a time, and practice that until you become proficient before you move onto the next thing. One common complaint about professional development training is that nothing really changes as a result. One of the reasons for that is the sheer amount of new information and techniques being shown in a short amount of time. It's like trying to teach someone how to play disc golf well in an afternoon, that's just not going to happen. It's an unrealistic expectation. And when people become too overwhelmed, they default to what's familiar instead of integrating a new skill into practice. That is why embedding professional development training into routine business operations has such profound impacts. Leaders wisely choose to engage my Co-Creating Retreat Experiences services for that very reason - the retreat, which has to happen, also doubles as an opportunity for intentional professional development. By working together in this way, we are breaking down their skill development into discrete, more manageable pieces. Not only do team members develop valuable new skills, but the retreats also produce better results. This past summer, I facilitated a virtual retreat for a high performing team. The team leader wanted to ensure he was supporting their continued professional development while encouraging the team to step back and update their overall strategy. Like many of us, they were extremely busy navigating the disruptions caused by COVID. The team leader preferred not to choose between professional development and strategic planning, he wanted to say yes to both without creating additional burdens on people's time. After we processed the opportunities for growth and the challenges that emerged from working remotely, we set the purpose and objectives for the retreat. From there we agreed to cultivate one Conversational Essential through the retreat experience - Conversational Agility. Conversational Agility is the ability to navigate conversations while honoring the voices of contributors, allowing for new ideas to emerge, shifting out of patterned threat responses and keeping the discussion on topic. It sounds like a lot, and in order to cultivate this ability, there are three specific components - our capacity to reframe, redirect and refocus while in conversation. At the beginning of the retreat, I acknowledged that meeting virtually was not how we originally envisioned conducting the strategic planning session and the format could pose challenges. I then encouraged everyone to embrace this format as an opportunity to practice Conversational Agility. I made the practice more tangible by linking each piece to specific elements of conversation we may choose to positively influence - oneself, each other, and the collective. This was how I presented Reframe, Redirect and Refocus:

  • Reframe the story you’re telling yourself. Shift perspectives. “Another way to look at this is…”

  • Redirect how someone is contributing. Connect the dots of tangents and honor their voice. “Help me see how X relates to Y.”

  • Refocus the group back to the purpose & objectives of the retreat. A collective shift in attention. “That’s a great segway to…”

As we entered breakout discussions, I reminded everyone to mindfully practice Conversational Agility by asking, "how could I apply reframe, redirect or refocus to improve the quality of the discussion?" Over the course of two days, we engaged in a process of brainstorming and decision making. Applying lessons learned, getting new ideas out, synthesizing them, setting direction and identifying next steps. Not only was the retreat productive and successful, but it was also fun. After the retreat concluded, we conducted a follow-up assessment where we asked how practicing Conversational Agility (redirect, reframe, refocus) impacted the way they showed up at the retreat. Here are some of the comments we heard.

  • Keeping these as a grounding place to begin conversation was helpful. I believe it made the team more efficient and helped to keep discussions on track.

  • Using Conversational Agility helped me to ask the appropriate questions to better understand my teammate's connections and points of view as it encouraged them to explain their thought process more fully and to add more context to the ways they were engaging with our prompts.

  • It helped people open their mind and involved them in conversations.

  • Better communication.

  • Good to think through topics in different ways.

By giving the team an opportunity to practice applying one discrete skill in a real-life setting, they saw tangible impacts from their efforts. Bit-by-bit, this high performing team elevated their abilities to succeed. The team leader was keenly aware that learning to sustain Conversational Agility was essential for them to maintain their competitive market advantage in spite of the massive disruptions caused by COVID; the retreat was the perfect opportunity to hone that one skill while getting real work done.


Do you want to turn your next retreat into a professional development opportunity while getting real work done? Schedule 30 minutes with me to learn how the Co-Creating Retreat Experience can help your business maintain a competitive advantage and thrive right now.

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