Conversations are something we often take for granted, despite how pervasive they are. We are almost always in dialogue with ourselves or with others, and these conversations heavily influence our well-being and our relationships. Most of the time, we don't pay enough attention to words and how they’re used; we just react to them. However, in a world that increasingly produces fake news and “alternative facts,” we are quickly becoming more aware of the power of language and its influence on our lives and on the future.
A conversation is like the water in which fish swim. And just like fish, if our conversations are toxic, we fail to thrive. Research in epigenetics, neurophysiology, and positive psychology have helped uncover and measure the various ways words impact us — some researchers have tracked the biological effects of words, monitoring the triggers and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. These biochemical reactions influence our ability to connect and engage with others, think critically and creatively, and thrive in the face of challenge.
Fortunately, conversations are something that we can manage and control. We can take the driver’s seat and choose to have conversations that encourage meaningful relationships that flourish. Considering how important conversations can be in any organization or business, this critical element of communication can make or break the collective success.
Harnessing the Power of Conversation
Harnessing the power of conversation means stepping into the possibility of engaging the full potential of every stakeholder in the future success of a business or community. Imagine unleashing the creative imagination present in any group of people who are innovating products and services or solving complex challenges. You can easily spark this kind of productive and rich engagement simply by changing the conversational tone and direction. In my latest book, Conversations Worth Having, there are many stories of organizations that have done exactly this. These stories of success all share two common themes: they’ve used the simple practices of positive framing and generative questions.
- Positive framing is simply structuring outcomes in terms of what you want instead of what you don’t want, and encouraging people to think about the best possible path forward. Too often, we get caught up discussing the problem, searching for root causes, and complaining. Instead, flip the problem to its positive opposite and talk about what you want and the outcomes you are hoping for. For example, instead of talking about low performance and why it is occurring so that you can fix it, talk about high performance, what it looks like, what supports it, and how we might all aspire to it. This important shift in focus unleashes excitement, energy, and creativity in people.
- Generative questions are questions where you don’t have the answers, and you are hoping to inspire others to find them. They may make the invisible visible, surface different perspectives, generate information and new knowledge, and create possibilities for moving towards shared visions and solutions. Problems can be addressed with far more creative and innovative solutions because of the nature of the conversation. Below are some potential generative questions to get you started:
- When have you been part of a high-performance team? Describe that experience.
- What did you value about yourself and others in that experience?
- What factors contributed to it being a high-performance experience?
- How might we use this information to support all teams all the time in sustaining high performance?
Commit to Conversations
These outcome-focused and inquiry-based interactions create conditions that enable people to connect, collaborate, and bring their best creative selves to the task at hand. This has a positive dual outcome: individual well-being improves, and the company or community prospers. It’s that simple, and yet it’s not always easy. We are wired to scan for threats and problems. Being in charge of your words and conversations requires mindfulness and commitment. The first step is to become aware of the kind of conversations you are having. For the next couple of days, pay attention. Become more attune to the subtle shifts in your sense of well-being, depending on the conversation. Pay attention to what conversations give life to you and others. Choose to focus on what you want and to adopt an attitude of curiosity.
Using positive framing and generative questions can launch you and your organization into a more trusting and connected team of people working toward a shared goal. But first, you have to start with evaluating what kinds of conversations you’re currently having and determining where you hope to go. The outcome feels like magic.
Cheri Torres is a lead catalyst for positive change and a speaker and senior consultant with Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders and teams, enhancing their conversational intelligence and ability to engage and inspire excellence. For more information on her latest book, visit her website