Ever heard of Conversational Intelligence?

NOTE: Today is my penultimate working day of 2017 (Yay!) and I wanted to share some learnings that I’ve found useful in this last quarter of the year. “Conversational Intelligence” by Judith Glazer is a must read, and the following is merely my own takeaway from her stellar work. This was meant to be a LinkedIn post, but all truth is parallel, they say, and the same principles that we can apply in a professional context to improve relationships are applicable in our personal life. So I’m sharing here. Feel free to take and apply whatever you need. Happy New Year!

Dysfunctional organisational culture. Toxic relationships. Self- doubt. Mistrust. Misaligned objectives. Perverse metrics. Silo-ed-approach to business. Misunderstandings. Wasted time. Defensivenes.

All of the above are directly related to the quality of the conversations we have. The culture of an organisation and the ease (or not) of interpersonal relationships do not exist in vacuum. Think about it. The intangible “this is how it is around here” results from how we relate to each other.
Courtesy Jane Genova
How Dysfunction Looks
Ever sat in a meeting, listened to the usual suspects pontificate on and on, listen to silence when feedback is solicited, leave the room and see the mini meetings taking place in huddles across the department? Ever wondered why your partner just can’t seem to understand why this is so important to you yet does nothing to change the way they operate? Ever yearned to get into your teenager’s head to understand just how the heck they came to make that decision to carry out that act? Ever stepped back aghast that your friend or colleague took offence to that off-hand remark you made the other day?
Meaning resides in the Listener
The person speaking assumes that what he means to convey is what the person on the other end understands. After all, words have meanings, and when put together in a sentence can only have one meaning, the meaning the speaker ascribes to the sentence. Right? Not so fast.
There is a difference between Intention and Impact. You see, both the speaker and the listener don’t exist in a sterile environment where the only variable are the words being bandied about. There is a context that absolutely determines how something is said and how it is interpreted. What is this context? It comprises a number of factors: past experiences, how the person was raised, personal values, expectations, …and biology.  Biology? Yes.
Courtesy The American Negotiation Institute
Why don’t they get it?
Uncertainty and fear are the two biggest hindrances to effective communication. They are the filters which have the biggest potential to distort meaning leading to the attributes that kicked off this essay. Where there is ambiguity, our brain naturally and instinctively fills in the gaps.
Simply put, our brains operate at two levels: a more primal, instinctive level where we react to unfamiliar, potentially hostile situations in a particular way, with the sole aim being self-preservation, the old fight or flight response, if you will. Then there’s our higher order brain which is more capable of interrogation, judgement, linking facts, and rational responses. This part of our brain does not operate instinctively, but we can learn how to train it such that we are more mindful and deliberate and intentional in how we converse with those around us.
Judith Glazer in her book “Conversational Intelligence” quite appropriately described what our brain does in the face of this uncertainty as “creating a script and playing a movie” that fills in the blanks in the World According to Us. In the face of ambiguity, our more primitive lower brain kicks in and creates a scenario where we go into protective mode. The result is a chain reaction of distrust which blocks effective communication.
But we can fix it!
Here is how we can, by understanding the biology at work, move beyond an instinctive posture to a more deliberate one aimed at creating constructive conversations:
1.       Listen without judgement. Listen. Make the effort to hear what the other person is saying without running them through your personal filters.
2.       Ask Discovery type questions. These are not yes or no answer questions. These are more how and why ones. Asking questions aimed at uncovering the real message being conveyed allows you the listener to suspend the judgement mentioned in 1. above and clears the path so that all that remains is What Is Meant to Be Conveyed.
3.       If you are the one conveying a message, then you have to be aware that the listener will most likely interpret what you are saying based on his own filters. This will force you to address fears and concerns that you think they have up-front in your messaging, again clearing the way for What Is Meant to Be Conveyed. You should also feel free to ask the listener to tell you what they got from what you were saying. This creates the opportunity to clarify and refine your message.
4.       An environment of openness and acceptance are a must for points 1 through 3 to flourish. Easier said than done though, right?  What if you are not the one in the position of leadership with the implied authority to create such and environment… is all lost?
No. YOU can contribute to a cleared pathway for effective communication by adopting points 1 and 2 above: listen without judgement and ask discovery type questions. In the absence of an open and accepting environment this could be difficult, but still doable. And slowly, you could see a paradigm shift in the quality of your own relationships with those around you. It’s a start.  
As we build our conversational intelligence we’ll see the quality of our conversations evolve along this continuum:
TELL/ASK >>>>>>>ADVOCATE/INQUIRE>>>>>>>>SHARE/DISCOVER
It is when we are operating in the share/discover mode that conversations are most productive and where dysfunction in relationships and culture disappear.
A Personal Commitment to Building Conversational Intelligence
Going forward, let us, wherever we are, regardless of our position of power in the relationship, seek to create a new context, one that minimises fear, doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity. Here are some suggestions as to how we can do this:
Maintain an open posture: be open to new thoughts and ideas and let this inform your body language and choice of words.
Display appreciation: saying thanks and acknowledging good quells fear. And that’s a good thing, right? Because fear distorts meaning and blocks understanding.
Focus on Discovery in the conversation rather than seeking to make your own point.
Practice Empathy and Curiosity: This narrows the gap between expectations and reality, the root of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Here’s to a 2018 where we level up and become better parents, partners, leaders and servants by creating a context where fear and ambiguity are minimized and where sharing and discovery can thrive, and conversations are meaningful and productive. 
Courtesy Wheeler Blogs

about surviving in the Information Age

I wrote to the Gleaner and they published it as an article:

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130319/cleisure/cleisure3.html

Spark Youth Interest

Published: Tuesday | March 19, 20130 Comments

Kelly McIntosh, Contributor
The evidence of poor problem-solving skills and the lack of ability to think critically is all too evident in the state of Jamaica today. Sure enough, corruption is at the root of many of the issues that beset our nation, but we cannot downplay our collective ability (or lack thereof) to make sound decisions and to tackle complex issues.
We need to start now, as early as possible in the education system, to teach our young how to analyse problems, how to approach solutions, and how to think critically.
When I was younger, the challenge was ferreting out information to do projects and complete assignments for school. Many of us can remember having to go to an actual library and being guided by the index cards housed in the wooden catalogue drawers.
Fast-forward to 2013: the challenge now is to decide what information to discard! Students simply Google the question or the topic. I have had to teach my own children basic research skills like cross-referencing and fact- and source-checking as they wade through the plethora of available information.
I do not think it is possible to critically analyse any issue without a sound grasp of language. Again, we are at the mercy of this new information age. Children write in shorthand, use creative acronyms, and learn to express themselves in 140 characters or less (think Twitter!). And while creativity is good, and the ability to summarise useful, this must be balanced by other opportunities where ideas can be fleshed out and opinions challenged and defended.
Here are my proposals for equipping our young for success in the information age:
1 Encourage reading from early. This is best done by giving children access to information about what interests them. Your son who is interested in animals, for example, will not read that book that you thrust into his hands with the best intentions in the world about toys coming to life after dark.
2 From as early as kindergarten and basic school, emphasise compre-hension. Have the children do more than merely answer questions based on facts contained in the passage. They must be encouraged to criticise and imagine. This can be done individually, by writing, and collectively, in the form of class discussions.
3 Treat maths as a language describing a situation, yet providing the way to a solution through the application of basic steps one after another. Emphasise the understanding of the fundamentals over mechanical replication. The children need to be taught to determine what the particular maths problem is asking them to do and what information is provided. Once they understand the fundamental operations, application in search of a solution becomes intuitive, rooted in common sense, and not necessarily the purview of the ‘math genius’ in the class.
4 Relate everything taught to everyday life, so applicability is always at the forefront.
5 Simply have conversations with your children. When driving, turn off the radio and, most definitely, put down the cell phone. Ask them about their day. Talk about something you read in the papers or saw on the news. Ask them their opinions. Have them defend their point of view.
Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kkmac218@gmail.com.
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