Back in the day management styles were about having a leader at the top of a pyramid, where all others below them would carry out the tasks as directed by the leader. This was typically done out of directive, meaning the leader told people what to do and expect that it would be carried out. The consequences of not doing as directed were always negative and sometimes as extreme as getting fired. But this organizational model has proven to struggle to survive because it limits an organization from reaching a higher potential.
Leaders today are more understanding that humans are not machines and that we are capable of so much more. They understand that collaboration, innovation, and independence offer a more significant return than the outdated command and control method. With all the research and information that we have gathered leaders are capable of learning what it takes to engage people and encourage people to carry out their work intelligently and collaboratively with innovation.
The world has changed, and our leadership model needs to evolve with it. People no longer compliantly deliver a simply manufactured item that can be counted on a spreadsheet. With today’s competition, employees have a greater ability to drive success or failure through the culture of the organization by their attitude and through their own leadership qualities.
Conversational leadership is part of this evolution. The idea that people having conversations is a leadership strategy that encourages trust and close working relationships. By using conversation as a way for everyone within the organization to communicate, opportunities to collaborate are increased and capabilities are multiplied.
There are a few fundamental elements that leaders should adopt to start heading in the right evolutionary direction:
Deliberate Meaningful Conversations
Conversation between two people sharing information seems simple enough. But the truth is, centuries of pyramid leadership has wired our brains to speak superficially. This means that good conversations take a more effort than you might assume or accustomed to in order to get results.
Deliberate meaningful conversation requires deep engaged listening with curiosity in place of assumptions. This allows individuals to build building shared meaning through an exchange, as opposed to an argument. Meaningful conversation is not only about listening deeply, but also speaking when are compelled. Rather than being required to speak as part of a social norm or an expectation, or when spoken to, employees should be able to speak freely and openly.
These conversations do not include discussion, debate, persuasion, convincing, or tactics to try to change someone’s opinion. It is about learning more.
Of course, we should continue communications through PowerPoint presentations, e-mail, and text messaging. But conversations must occur to remain competitive. Brining back practices of sharing, thinking, and creativity by communicating stories and connecting ideas together.
If you’ve heard of dialogue tools like these, they exist to help people to communicate better:
o Meeting audits
o Facilitated conference calls
o Storytelling for corporate leaders
o Accountability agreements
o Interest-based negotiations
As leaders, we need to create opportunities for this particular kind of communication to take place, designing conversations that lead to shared meaning, deeply respectful dialogue, and effective listening.
Building Your Personal Skills
Communicating is so much more complicated than saying something hand having someone understand. This is because our messages are sent through a complex system of filters and outside influences before it even reaches the recipient, all these things that get in the way of hearing what the other person is really saying. This is why we as leaders must always clarify that the person has received the message which we intended to send.
Tips for Becoming a Better Listener
Because listening is such a crucial part of a conversation, here are a few tips to being a better listener:
Make a decision to listen. Close your mind to clutter and noise and look at the person speaking with you. Give them your undivided attention.
Don’t interrupt people. Make it a habit to let them finish what they are saying. Respect that they have thoughts they are processing and speaking about, and wait to ask questions or make comments until they have finished.
Keep your eyes focused on the speaker and your ears tuned to their voice. Don’t let your eyes wander around the room, just in case your attention does too.
Carry a notebook or start a conversation file on your computer. Write down all the discussions that you have in a day. Capture the subject, who spoke more (were you listening or doing a lot of the talking?), what you learned in the discussion, as well as the who, what, when, where, why, and how aspects of it. Once you have conducted this exercise 8-10 times, you will be able to see what level your listening skills are currently at.
Ask a few questions throughout the conversation. When you ask, people will know that you are listening to them and that you are interested in what they have to say. Your ability to summarize and paraphrase will also demonstrate that you heard them.
When you demonstrate good listening skills, they tend to be infectious. If you want people to communicate well, you have to set a high example.