Articles & Publications

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: December 17, 2013


Every conversation has an impact. You may not see it at first. It takes place inside of us at the speed of .07 seconds. It takes place at the cellular level.  Cells talk with each other, and if a conversation feels bad—our fear networks are activated instantly. Blood rushes to our primitive brain, which is designed for protection. Cortisol (a fear hormone) is spray-painted everywhere, and our ability to protect ourselves from harm is turned on instantly.

Did you ever notice that, during a meeting or brainstorming session, one comment from a powerful voice can stop the innovation process?

Simple comments such as, “how could you think that,” or “what where you thinking” activate our fear network and without realizing it, colleagues can inadvertently and unintentionally turn the “innovation lights out”.

The quality of conversations does matter. Quality conversations establish the environments and readiness to support innovation.

Pathways to Success:

Step 1: Encourage Candor and Trust 

Straight talk, candor and open conversations (without repercussions and fear of punishment) are the operating norm for innovative conversations. Employees need to trust that their ideas will be heard—and that they will get support, attention and proper vetting once the ideas are put on the table. Shaping the quality of the conversational environment enables employees to speak up, and share their innovative thinking.

Step 2:  Eliminate Politics

Organizations have unwritten codes that signal “you can’t say this,” or “you can’t do that”.  These codes tell people they are unsafe to challenge the status quo. People are afraid to speak up. Conversations go to the lowest common denominator—people stop innovating.

However, when shaping the quality of the conversational environment for safety, employees trust they will get quality feedback on their ideas, and they speak up.

Step 3: Promote Recognition

Too often employees have great ideas, and no one listens. When ideas are expressed, no one validates them or acknowledges them. There is an instinctive fear in many of us that our voices will not be heard, and our ideas will be pushed under the rug or their importance minimized.

Shaping the quality of the conversational environment with conversational norms that enable employees to be celebrated for having great ideas changes the amount of great ideas that show up. When employees can trust that they will get the recognition from the top for being “idea catalysts”, management will find that people have a lot to say!

Ask Yourself…

  • What does the organization need to know but does not because people are afraid to speak up?
  • What are you doing to create trusting, non-toxic work environments?
  • What are the unwritten codes or norms that are at play that may be inhibiting open, candid, trusting conversations?
  • What can you do as a leader to create trust?

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