Now’s the Time for Authentic, Transparent Conversations

June 29, 2021 David Witt

Conversational capacity is the ability to have constructive, learning-focused dialogue about difficult subjects, under challenging circumstances, and among people with diverse views. “This is an important skill as we try to figure out what the post-COVID workplace looks like,” says bestselling business author Craig Weber.

“We need to develop this skill for two reasons. First, people have different views about what's appropriate and what's not appropriate based on their previous experience, their health, and the health of their family members. What may look like a reasonable course of action to one person may seem highly risky to another. So the ability to engage in balanced, learning-focused conversations that take into account the needs of both the organization and the individual is pivotal.”

“The second reason is that some people are questioning whether they want to go back to the kind of work environment they had before. Some people want their work arrangement designed a bit differently. The pandemic created a grand experiment in what is possible, and many people see new opportunities.”

This has caught the attention of senior leaders, says Weber.

“In working with CEOs and executive teams all over the US the last couple of months, one of the key concerns I hear is about how these circumstances will impact their ability to find, engage, and retain talent.

“An organization with high conversational capacity has a big advantage over other employers because their people know how to engage in conversations that help them find working solutions. This skill creates a working culture that not only attracts new talent but also helps engage and retain existing talent.

“When people work in an environment where they are listened to and where they have influence over their work and how it’s done, they are more likely to stay with that organization than roll the dice and go someplace else. Increasing conversational capacity is an important factor in making this happen.”

Weber explains that conversational capacity is about people learning how to be more candid and curious in their conversation style.

Candor means speaking openly, honestly, and directly. They’re not wondering what others around the table are thinking about a decision or problem. Candor is best when it's balanced with curiosity, which means open-minded, inquisitive, and eager to learn.

“When there's a difference of opinion around the table, instead of getting defensive, people with curiosity get interested: How are you looking at this? Tell me more about how you're making sense of the issue.”

Weber explains that the best work gets done when conversations maintain the right balance of candor and curiosity. The problem is that under pressure, people begin to slip out of that sweet spot.

“When they are feeling stressed, some people become less candid—overly guarded and cautious. They don’t speak up and say something they should say. Other people slide out of the sweet spot and become less curious—more arrogant, more argumentative. Their mind is shut, but their mouth is open.

“As a team and an organization, the further we get out of the sweet spot, the less capable we are of making smart decisions, managing change in an elegant way, and incorporating the views of our people into the decisions we're making.

Weber shares some specific advice for discussing the return to a hybrid work environment.

“From a conversational capacity viewpoint, someone who wants to work from home could start a conversation this way: ‘I've got a view that I'd like to spend more time working from my home office and less time here in the corporate office. Let me lay out why I think there are advantages to this for both you and me. And then let me check it with you because there may be situations where it may not work so well for the business. I'm open to influence here.’

“In this instance, an employee is putting their clear preference on the table and then describing the rationale behind it. They could have issues around childcare. Or their productivity may have increased because there are fewer distractions at home. But then they check their view to see what they might be missing.”

Weber explains that with high levels of candor and curiosity, people can outline their view, explain it in a clear, lucid way, and then check it and see what the employer thinks.

“They’re not making a demand that sparks a conflict. They’re making a suggestion in a way that starts a conversation. The employer might say, ‘I agree with 70% of what you just suggested, so we have a lot of room here for compromise. Let me share a couple of concerns I have about what you’re suggesting and then get your thoughts on how we might address them.’

“Increased conversational capacity doesn't guarantee everyone gets everything they want. That’s not the goal. It means people can have rigorous, balanced, respectful conversations with the explicit goal of making the best possible decisions. The conversations are about learning, not agreement.”

What is really powerful, says Weber, is when everyone has a shared a framework for how they’ll engage in important conversations like this. “Increasing your conversational capacity provides a shared set of values, concepts, and skills—and that goes a long way toward creating an open, authentic, and transparent culture. It helps get everyone on the same page about not only what they’re working together to achieve, but how to work together to achieve it.

When everyone on the team is aware of conversational capacity concepts and the behaviors that bring them to life, they can say, ‘I think we're out of the candor and curiosity sweet spot.’ Everyone in the room knows what that means—and more important, they know what they can do about it.”

“A team that is aligned in this way has a huge advantage over a team that isn't as coordinated. Conversational capacity is an especially important skill for people to have right now, when everyone is dealing with so much uncertainty and change in the workplace.”


Would you like to learn more about increasing the conversational capacity in your organization?  Join us for a free webinar!

Conversations about Change: Increasing Your Conversational Capacity

Wednesday, July 7, 2021, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

In a world of rapid-fire change, quality communication can mean the difference between success and failure. In this webinar, bestselling business author Craig Weber shares how to develop conversation skills that keep communication open, balanced, and learning focused when dealing with important issues and difficult challenges.

Participants will explore three components of being an effective communicator:

  • Awareness: The ability to recognize and manage the powerful emotional reactions that throw conversations off balance.
  • Mindset: A conversational north star to guide you in important conversations and help you remain balanced and effective.
  • Skillset: A set of specific behaviors for remaining balanced in a conversation—simultaneously candid and curious—and for helping others do the same.

Don’t miss this opportunity to help your leaders develop a foundational competence for success in the new future of work.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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