Lessons from History: Harnessing the Power of Conversation

There is no escaping the power of personal relationships. The history of Scotland is a good example of how people and their relationships with one another can shape the course of a nation. Indeed, the landscape of Scotland’s history is littered with opportunities that didn’t materialize because of lack of wisdom, vision, passion, perseverance and trust. Personal ego was often to blame. Lack of respect for the views of others crippled collaboration. Paradigm paralysis frequently destroyed momentum.

How then, can we fare better in making better decisions in our business and personal lives when stakes are high and pressures threaten to overpower us? I have found the seven principles found in “Fierce Conversations” (Susan Scott, 2002) most helpful.
1) Master the courage to interrogate reality: Life changes us. Don’t neglect to share our journey with others… and admit changes to ourselves.
2) Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real: Unreal conversations are expensive. Goals are accomplished by making every conversation as real as possible
3) Be here, prepared to be nowhere else: Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It very well could be.
4) Tackle your toughest challenge today. Burnout occurs when we’re trying to solve the same problem over and over again. The problem named is the problem solved. Stay current with the people important to your success and happiness. Travel light and agenda-free.
5) Obey your instincts: Don’t just trust your instincts – obey them. Share these thoughts with others.
6) Take responsibility for your emotional wake: For a leader there is no trivial comment. You are “on the record” all the time. The conversation is the relationship.
7) Let silence do the heavy lifting: Allow insight to occur in the space between words. Discover what the conversation really needs to be about.

I’ve found the acronym STATE helpful in planning for even the most sensitive of conversations: (From “Crucial Conversations”, Patterson et al, 2002)
S: Share your facts. Facts are least controversial and most persuasive.
T: Tell your story. Be confident to share what you really want to express.
A: Ask for other paths. Encourage others to express their facts, stories and feelings.
T: Talk tentatively. Don’t be wimpy just share your opinion.
E: Encourage testing. Genuinely and humbly invite opposing views.

I hope these thoughts have been helpful and encouraging. We can learn from your experiences. Thanks for sharing!

About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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