Articles & Publications

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: April 30, 2014


One of the more famous lines from movies is the one uttered by the punitive prison warden (Strother Martin) to a recalcitrant escaped convict (Paul Newman) in the 1967 motion picture Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Failures to communicate clearly can be very costly, as evident, for instance, in the slow rollout of Obamacare, and the disastrous launch of the Columbia space shuttle.

What can you (and your team) do to avoid disasters and achieve the most powerful and most inspirational communications? I suggest you take a journey into new discoveries about Conversational Intelligence™, the science and art of how human beings connect, navigate and grow with other human beings in the pursuit of reaching their most vital dreams and aspirations together.

Seeing Reality in a New Way

Old thinking says that reality is ‘the physical world that exists around us’ and that we all live in the same reality. In this view, some people are smarter than others, and some people are more right than others about what reality is – and we need to turn to the ‘big authority’ for the ‘answers’ because they know best. In their view it’s not a good idea to push back against authority.

New thinking says that ‘reality lives inside each of us,’ and each person’s reality is made up of the person’s own experience of reality. Each person’s experiences are valid, valuable and unique. When people get together and share their perspectives on reality – a bigger picture emerges full of clarity, co-creativity, and new ways of thinking. This view affirms that through co-creating conversations – we release a new energy in the universe – an energy that gives us the power to shape reality and shape the future together.

Insights about Teams from Neuroscience

Neuroscience is teaching us that the ‘new way of thinking about reality’ is more accurate than the old way of thinking. We are learning that we create reality through our experience. We may use words that others use, yet the meaning of the words comes from our own experiences and each person’s experiences and perspectives are different. In teams where people try to move toward consensus too quickly, or into ‘groupthink,’ as they try to come to agreement about ‘what is true,’ or ‘what steps to take next on a project, they often limit the opportunity to explore each others most interesting, novel, and provocative ideas. The human force to connect and align with others can be so powerful, that we give up – give into the old thinking – of ‘authority’ at the expense of harvesting new ideas and the wisdom growing inside of each of us.

Building on What We Know to Arrive at What We Don’t Know

Conversational Intelligence™ is a new disciple that helps us break loose of old paradigms about conversations – and opens the door to new ways of thinking about creativity, collaboration and clear communication. For more than three decades, I’ve studied patterns of conversation in companies, teams, partnerships and relationships to identify patterns that lead to the most innovative, collaborative, and co-creative outcomes.

What I’ve learned is that there are three levels of conversation that lead to best results, yet we often get caught in one level or another and don’t know how to use conversational agility to get to the most creative. To navigate the world of conversations with others, we need to understand each of these levels.

Level I: Confirm what you know

This level is defined by people ‘telling and asking’ each other what they know. People love this level and often get caught in ‘telling’ and less asking or listening. Creativity can’t take place if we only live in our own ideas about the world, yet we often live in this world without knowing we are stuck. When we are talking – we feel great. In fact researchers have proved that we get a higher level of ‘dopamine,’ which is a ‘feel good hormone,’ when we are talking. We feel so good we may not realize we may have turned others off and they are not even listening to us.

ACTION: In Level I, we need to strive for clear communicationsasking more than telling, and being open to listen to and appreciate the perspectives of others. We need to realize that multiple realities exist, and each one provides new insights to explain, define and make sense of the world. In Level I, we need to identify when we are falling into the ‘Tell-Sell-Yell-Syndrome,’ and shift the conversation from push to pull

Level II: Defend what you Believe

This level of interaction dynamics is defined by ‘advocating and inquiring.’
In this level we feel so strongly about our perspective, or point of view, we defend our ideas and navigate with others to move them toward our points of view. When we are in this mindset of defending what we believe is true we often don’t see, hear or appreciate what others are trying to communicate, and we are not open to influence. People want to collaborate; yet each wants the other to move over to their points of view. Collaboration is defined in the dictionary as ‘cohorting with the enemy’ and in Level II we often see others who hold different points of view from ours as ‘our enemy.’

ACTION: In Level II, we need to redefine collaboration – and redefine others as ‘friends, not foes’ – even if they hold perspectives different than ours. We need to do more inquiring more about the views and perspectives of others rather than trying to influence them to our point of view. And, we need to be open to listen without judgment – often difficult when we are in a state of ‘high influence.’ In fact, we can get so committed to our perspectives that we become ‘Addicted to Being Right!’

Image of There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ – Avoid Costly Failures to CommunicateLevel III: Discover What You Don’t Know

This level of interaction dynamics is defined by ‘sharing and discovering.’ In this level we are open to influence, listen to connect, and ask questions for which we have no answers. Our minds are curious and agile and open to think in new ways about the past, present and future. Because we are not judging others – we are receptive and open to their perspectives, insights and wisdom.

ACTION: In Level III, we need to be open to influence – discovering what we don’t know we don’t know, and being curious and open to really listenening without judgment so we can step into the other person’s view of reality and appreciate their ideas, perspectives and insights. When we do this, a whole new view of reality emerges. When we are in this state of mind, we are doing more than collaborating we are ‘co-creating!’  

Image of There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ – Avoid Costly Failures to CommunicateTRY THIS!: There is an “I in Team’

Conversational Intelligence is a new view about conversations that says when we are having co-creating conversations, we are validating the ‘I inside of the WE!’ We are acknowledging each other’s view of reality and are opening the door to higher levels of shared success as well as higher levels of innovation, collaboration and clear communication.

To develop your Conversational Intelligence, become consciously aware of your state of mind. Ask yourself, ‘what impact are my ‘interaction dynamics’ having on others?’ Is my thinking I-centric or WE-centric? These various approaches—and states of mind have dramatically different impacts on the conversations you have and the outcomes you create. Once you recognize the differences, you gain mastery over your mind-set, link intentions with impact, and create healthy thriving organizations through co-creative conversations.

When you feel trapped in positional dynamics, triggered by tendencies to power over others, rather than shying away from having difficult conversations use Conversational Intelligence wisdom to stay in an open mind-set in which you share power, co-create outcomes, sustain rapport, invite innovation, and cultivate better, more productive relationships — even with former foes.

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