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Insights: Your Conversation Types
October 14, 2009
Your Conversation Types
In this week's article Bill explores how personal growth and happiness can come from knowing when and how to shift the frame of the conversations that we constantly have.
"Saying what we think gives us a wider conversational range than saying what we know."
- Cullen Hightower
My newsletter this week is inspired by Sasha Xarrian who runs an online site called Outrageous Mastery. Sasha is a truly amazing woman, whose story I have covered in past newsletters. Suffice it to say for now that she recently wrote a 'coaching tip' in response to the many people that constantly ask her: "Why Can't I Make the Money that Others Do?"
One of the things she touched on in her column was the power of transforming the type of conversations that we tend to have when situations change.
In reading her article, I was taken back to a corporate leadership programme that I attended some years ago. On that programme we were taught the importance of leaders being able to frame the appropriate types of conversation with their teams in order to have the best chance of success with whatever new direction they were contemplating.
My experience with change and transformation management also showed the value in structuring conversations that were most appropriate for the stage of transformation that the division or team was confronting.
I don't recall the exact terminology that I was exposed to in either case, so I'll use my own. The descriptors are less important than an appreciation of how the type of conversation we engage in sets us up for failure or success, staying stuck in a rut versus moving to explore higher ground.
Conversation of Worst Fears
This is a very common type of conversation that we like to have when times are tough or when we are confronting a major change. In essence we like to talk about how bad things could get, or the 'worst case scenario'.
I'm the chairman of a body corporate for a small housing complex and had to host our AGM last night. Most of the folks who own units in the complex are pensioners. At some point I happened to mention something about the economic recession and one particular pensioner latched on to this with glee, seemingly taking a kind of morbid delight in telling me: "It will only get worse". After that, the conversation lurched in a rather depressing direction as the gathered clan started speculating about what electricity would cost the average household in three year's time!
The question Sasha handled in her article represented, in a sense, an element of a conversation of worst fears. Note the word "can't" which implies that the questioner had already resigned him or herself to having a money making potential inferior to others.
Conversation of Possibility
One solution we, as leaders, were offered to deal with employees mired in discussion about how bad things might get, was to slowly shift the conversation frame from one of 'worst fears' to one of 'possibility'.
I tried valiantly last night to use this tactic with my pensioner friends, encouraging them to see how the economic crisis had made homes more affordable for their children and grandchildren - and then suggesting that escalating energy costs would force us to live greener lives and invest in alternative energy, which could only be good for the planet!
Sasha, in her article, proposed a similar approach to her questioner. Rather than dwell on the negatives associated with the financial situation, why not start to explore the many possibilities that exist because of it? By thinking differently to most others - by considering the possibilities rather than the impossibilities of a situation - the subconscious mind starts to find some rather neat ways forward. Gradually the treacle drains from the darkly lit swamp and the wellington boots start to feel a great deal lighter and more mobile!
Conversation of Opportunity
Once the dawn appears and the light that comes from considering a range of possibilities starts to flood in, it is not long before the sun comes out, the mist clears and we find ourselves standing on hard ground in lightweight trainers. Possibilities start to turn into genuine opportunities. That's how our amazing minds work. If we concentrate our efforts on thinking of 'what could be' for long enough, we'll soon find ourselves confronted with opportunities that can take us in new and more positive directions, if that's what we want.
During one of our numerous restructuring exercises in corporate life I remember counselling a team member who had heard that he was to be made redundant. His conversation started with worst fears, as you can imagine, but as the week wore on, he slowly came around to looking at the many possibilities that this news had opened up. Before the end of the week he was enthusiastically telling me about plans to start his own business with an amazing idea that he had for some time but had suppressed while in employment.
Conversation of Commitment
Being open to and embracing opportunity is a wonderful thing but to make the change of direction complete it is necessary to start conversations of commitment. These are conversations that are characterised by talk of action, setting milestones and orchestrating events - doing the things necessary to build a new future by focusing on turning an opportunity into a committed course of action - a new reality if you like.
Do successful people have conversations only about commitment?
No, of course not.
They understand that life is dynamic and fluid. They know that change is the only constant in life. But they also know how to shift conversations quickly from worst fears to possibility to opportunity to commitment. As they do so they grow as people and start to welcome - rather than retreat from - challenges in life.
Until next week,
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