Conversational Intelligence

I have heard two discussions around conversation this week, coming from very different angles, which have similar recommendations. Engage in a true dialog with the other individual. That means listen to them, and don’t go off on a monologue.

So what happens when we monologue? Biologically our body releases a higher level of reward hormones and we feel great. Our bodies crave that high and we become blind to what we’re doing to the other person, who is feeling invisible, unimportant and minimized. Meanwhile they are experiencing the same neurochemicals as physical pain.

Conversational intelligenceJudith Glaser’s upcoming book, Conversational Intelligence, focuses on getting business people, and particularly sales people, to listen to their customers and to engage them in conversation. But first we need to recognize our blind spots. Two common ones are:

  • Assuming that others see what you see, feel what you feel, and think what you think
  • Thinking you understand and remember what others say, when you really only remember what you think about what they’ve said

Harville Hendrix explains that many people become self absorbed due to emotional events in their childhood, usually from their major caregivers that trigger an anxious response. This goes deeply into their emotional memory and follows them into adulthood. Ever wonder why most people live in the WIFM (what’s in it for me) world? At meetings and conferences, they are the ones who tell you what they do, how you can help them, and jam their business card at you without finding out about you aside from your name, which they probably forget immediately. Or conversely, they want to know all about you, but don’t tell you about themselves even when you probe.

Harville Hendrix Helen LaKelly HuntHarville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt have found that three factors lead to “conscious partnership” between marital partners: safety, connection and joyful aliveness. Low self esteem and interpersonal negativity (putting others down) make it hard to feel safe and connected in an intimate relationship. Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar with relationships we forge in business too?

In couples research, Harville and Helen concluded that most individuals talk in monologue with their mate. We listen, but we don’t hear. Actually I think this is a common phenomenon in everyday life in personal and business dealings. We forget that our true self is part of the bigger whole, and a great place to start is at home with your loved ones.

Tips for improving your dialog skills:

  • Pay attention and minimize the time you monopolize the conversational space
  • Share that space by asking open-ended questions that let the other person know you heard and are listening
  • Listen non-judgmentally to their answers
  • Mirror their responses to make sure you understood
  • Validate what they’re saying
  • Empathize and respond to their feelings

These are the same skills of a good researcher and competitive intelligence professional who is in the collection mode. Good dialog skills can help you in relationship building. It’s a shame that we are not taught from a young age in the US how to conduct a decent dialog. Schools teach us to be competitive and to excel rather than to be cooperative and to learn from others through conversation. Competitiveness encourages that boring monologue, WIFM tendency from an early age.

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