[C-IQ] Improve your odds with these 5 Conversational Intelligence Essentials

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 039

Aug 9, 2023

Conversational Intelligence Essentials to Help You Get Started

[Listen at approximately 00:12]

Did you know that 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark - meaning that people walked away with different views of reality and what they agreed upon?

How would you like to improve your odds?

Because this is quite common, missing the mark in conversations. We could improve our odds from missing 9 out of 10 conversations to 5 out of 10 conversations [for example], and the world might be a happier place. There might be fewer assumptions and less confusion when we walk away after a conversation thinking, 'but I thought that's what you meant'.

Today, we want to start sharing the five conversational intelligence essentials to help get you started.

After recording our last Episode 038, we introduced you to the concept of Conversational Intelligence and one of our favourite conversational rituals, the L.E.A.R.N. activity. And if you still need to listen to it, go back and check it out. You don't have to listen to it in order, but you might find it interesting.

After finishing Episode 038, we thought we would do a series on Conversational Intelligence [C-IQ], which might be very helpful for you.

We all struggle with conversations, or indeed, the conversations we don't have, or the conversations we have in our heads - we had one of those moments today - I [Karin] thought one thing, you [Nuala] thought something else. We went, u-oh, we need to think about that and have a better conversation.

So it happens to everybody. It's part of the journey of being human, but we can make it better.

So what are we going to do? We are going to take you on a journey.

And that journey is around sharing tools that will hopefully be useful.

It will be opening up and maybe switching on some light bulbs of understanding:

  • That may explain why this went wrong or didn't work as well.
  • Or that did work well, but I don't know what I need to repeat to have the same positive outcome and future conversations because I can't tell what I did differently.

And, of course, we would be delighted in between these series to have a conversation with you and see how your teams can improve.

So feel free to connect with us anytime at hello@safetycollaborations.com, and let's talk about reducing things like conversational waste, improving our conversations, and increasing that Conversational Intelligence [C-IQ].

Conversational Waste

[Listen at approximately 02:57]

In case this notion hasn't crossed your path before, or if you're there pondering what conversational waste entails – no need to worry; we covered it in Episode 007, so if you're curious and keen to explore the world of conversational waste, give it a listen.

To sum it up:

Conversational waste is one of those hidden costs that often goes unnoticed within an organisation.

It's easy to overlook how much time, effort, and energy, not to mention the mending of frayed relationships, goes into conversations that just didn't quite hit the mark.

Conversations that don't go so well can actually contribute to more incidents.

Because you might leave thinking you're all sorted – understanding the plan or catching a few keywords – but still not fully grasping the heart of the toolbox talk. And off you go on your own little tangent, only to find things don't turn out as expected.

This could lead to you spending a lot of precious time crafting processes and procedures, pondering how to reduce incidents and boost performance.

Yet, improving your conversations can give your performance a healthy boost. It creates a sense of psychological safety and positively impacts your work and personal life.

We love the term "conversational waste" and believe it should be mentioned more and brought to the forefront of people's minds.

With that as the primer, let's dive into the five conversational intelligence essentials to help get you started.

Introduction to the 5 Conversational Intelligence Essentials

[Listen at approximately 05:07]

So as we go on this journey today, we will cover the five essentials of conversational intelligence.

We're not deep diving; we're just going to give you an overview of each of them. Hopefully, they will trigger some thoughts for you. And if they do, then reach out to us - send us an email or connect with us on LinkedIn and share your thoughts on what you're hearing today and over the next few episodes. 

We often say there are six essentials because the first thing that you need to do is

'Being Open to Influence'.

Be open to change, be curious - we love the old saying, two ears and one mouth - it's important here to spend more time listening and listening without judgment. 

We will talk about the three levels of conversations in our next episode, 040.
There are different levels of conversational types we can have. And we're not talking about the classics that are open, closed and leading. 
That's more about questions; we're talking about conversational styles. 

And in further episodes, we're going to dive a bit deeper into the neuroscience of this - so what chemical reactions are happening within us when we have these different types of conversations? 

So when we take you on that journey, these five essentials will always come up because across cultures, races and creeds, this applies to all of us, doesn't matter where we are in the world. 

So that's the first stepbeing open - meaning that you're open to possibilities and having that mindset of, yes, we can make a difference, I can make a difference in this conversation. It's a good place to start. 

The five essentials are:

  1. Priming for Trust, 
  2. Ask questions for which you have no answers, 
  3. Listen to connect, not judge or reject, 
  4. Sustaining Conversational Agility, and 
  5. Double-clicking [our personal favourite]. 

Priming for Trust

[Listen at approximately 07:27]

This one's quite significant, so much so that we will dedicate a future whole episode to it.

Trust is a rather weighty subject, particularly when starting from the point of uncertainty as we step into a conversation. If there have been previous issues or we're not entirely sure about the other person's intentions, it's all about recognising that and considering:

"How can I set the right tone? How can I make this conversation honest and transparent?"

And by the way, being transparent doesn't mean spilling all your secrets or revealing confidential information. It's about being genuine, being yourself, and bringing that authenticity to the table.

This is closely connected to the type of relationship you're nurturing. It's about how you connect with colleagues, friends, or family, depending on where you want to improve your conversational skills. Those are two of the significant starting points.

Regarding trust, you might have caught that we mentioned Transparency first – that's the T, followed by R. The final part encompasses Understanding, Shared success, and Truth-telling.

It's all about establishing common ground that leads to collective success. Part of this involves being straightforward and expressing what's on your mind, not just letting everything spill out.

The more open we are about our feelings and what's going on internally, the easier it becomes to share accomplishments and truly comprehend someone's emotional perspective. All these elements are interlinked.

Without a degree of trust in the mix – whether between you and me, a manager and their team, two people having a conversation, or even a parent and child – it's pretty challenging to make progress.

Trust needs to be cultivated, which ties in closely with the first notion of being open to hearing others out. If I'm not receptive to that, trust tends to dissipate, as I'm already thinking about what I want to say before I've heard your side.

And when we find ourselves in an environment of mistrust, we often close ourselves off – you know - arms crossed [as if subconsciously shielding ourselves], our mind shutting down.

When we're operating from the standpoint of little or no trust, we often adopt closed-off postures – arms crossed, a hint of hesitation, a certain reluctance in our communication. But as we gravitate towards [what we term] high trust, it becomes easier to open up and embrace fresh perspectives.

Trust is quite a significant aspect.

We [Safety Collaborations] utilise it when we're gearing up to work on-site; we start by building trust. It's not an instant thing.

You need time to cultivate relationships, seek mutual understanding, celebrate achievements, and sometimes do some truth-telling. We aim to create a secure, psychologically safe space where it's okay to transition to the next level.

Ask Questions For Which You Have No Answers

[Listen at approximately 11:20]

We often ask questions because we want to clarify our opinion or our viewpoint. We're asking the questions in a way that is actually getting people to answer what we want to hear [snake in the grass] rather than asking questions that might leave us a bit fearful.

Nuala:

My first encounter with asking questions without having answers was when I was learning to be a facilitator. Back then, I used to research everything extensively because I felt like I had to know it all – like I needed to have an answer for every possible question from participants.

But then, my mentor, Lynn, gave me a reality check.

She said, "Nuala, you can't be an expert on everything. And trying to be one takes away great learning opportunities from the people in the room. By giving them answers, you're not acknowledging that they might have their own insights."

This applies whether you're facilitating, coaching, working in teams, or even giving a talk. Dumping all the information on people doesn't let their own knowledge shine.
It doesn't encourage them to contribute more or learn more.

This lesson hit me hard, and I'm glad it did early on. I learned to be okay with not giving answers, even when I had them – which can be tough for many.

So instead of saying, "Here's what you should do,"
I'd say, "That's interesting. Tell me more. What do you think?"

Sure, some people might insist on hearing my thoughts, and that's fine.
But I make sure their voices come first – because they matter more.

There's a big takeaway here, especially for anyone leading a team.

Leadership is about facilitating, and a good facilitator is really good at this process by asking questions for which we have no answers.

When coaching one on one with people, particularly those who say things like,

'You know, I've got no time, people keep coming into my office, they keep asking me question after question, or questions that I've answered before,'

Just stop answering it because if you stop answering, they'll stop asking.
What behaviour are you rewarding?

[Listen at approximately 13:56]

So stop answering the question, but ask a question that will incite them to have an answer  - because they know.

Generally speaking, our brains are lazy.

We're a bit lazy - human beings - if we can find an easy solution to something, which means going to the same person and asking him questions all the time, and they always give us an answer; well, why do I have to do any research or use my grey matter?

So if we get into the habit of asking questions for which we have no answers, then the next one is really important. Because the next thing we usually say to people is:

Now that you've asked the question - ZIPIT.
Don't say another word, as awkward and uncomfortable as that can be.

How To Be Comfortable In The Silence

[Listen at approximately 15:37]

The next aspect involves 'listening to connect, not judge or reject.'

We've all been there – someone speaks, and while we're listening, our brain is already working on forming our response, often making judgments or dismissing their point of view because we assume we know better.

However, listening to connect requires a different approach.

It involves fostering a sense of partnership and building that connection. This is where the earlier idea of 'Priming for Trust' comes into play. The goal is to activate partnering with people.

It's a really important component to conversational intelligence.

Part of this is also feeling comfortable with silence.

If we were to pause for just ten seconds, you might wonder if there's an issue with your connection or if you missed something. Silence can be unsettling for many of us. However, it's a learned skill. Remember, when you pose a thought-provoking question and encounter silence, it's often an indicator that you've hit upon something meaningful.

So, give people the space they need to process their thoughts.

And in that, don't think about how you're going to respond, what you think that person will be answering, what you anticipate that they should be doing or shouldn't because then you are already judging, you're not connecting.

Just give them the focus to be able to think and really connect, and then you will connect to their world when they speak and answer.

Listening to your own listening comes to mind.

We spend a lot of time listening to our own listening, and we need to practice not listening to our own noise.

This doesn't mean shutting off your brain – that's nearly impossible, by the way.

It's about acknowledging your thoughts and setting them aside momentarily. This process might seem time-consuming, but it occurs in split seconds and is effective. A simple mental note like "thank you" can help you move on without verbalizing it.

These initial three components - Priming for trust, Asking questions without answers, and listening to connect instead of judging or rejecting - are interconnected.

They also touch on the influence of personal biases and stereotypes, which further complicates matters. Overcoming these challenges is not easy; we're inclined to cling to our own certainty (a topic we might explore more in an episode dedicated to being 'addicted to being right').

How To Sustain Conversational Agility

Conversational agility enables us to transition in and out of conversations smoothly.

The idea here is to have the ability to navigate discussions effortlessly, whether it involves navigating potential conflicts, dealing with discomfort, or finding alternative approaches.

When conflict looms, you sense unease, or if you believe there's a more effective approach to tackling a situation, consider how you could frame that conversation differently.

Within this concept, there are three words that align with sustaining conversational agility, and thats the options to:

Reframe, Refocus and Redirect.

These words hold significant importance.

Often, we discuss the mental movies we replay or the perspectives through which we see the world. Once we become accustomed to a specific viewpoint and close ourselves off to external influence, reframing, refocusing, or redirecting conversations becomes a challenge.

However, when we open ourselves to influence, we can break free from the cycle of repeatedly encountering conflict or disagreements.

This is when we ask ourselves, "How can I approach this situation differently?"

Often, even when talking about personality profiling, we reframe people saying [for example],
"But Karin is so difficult". No, let's instead look at how Karin is different.

The key lies in taking off the frame or lens we are so used to putting on or wearing and asking ourselves, "How can we look at this from a different angle?"

So that we are not stuck repeating unhealthy patterns of behaviour or conversation that end up giving the same results because we keep doing things the same way while hoping for a different result - hitting our heads on a brick wall.

Reframing And Refocusing The Problem Into An Opportunity

[Listen at approximately 20:04]

The idea of refocusing is changing our outlook from seeing a situation as a problem to seeing it as a chance for something good.

We were reminded of this recently by noticing how a tiny word like 'but' or 'and' can make a big difference in a conversation.

Imagine someone comes up to you and describes a situation, like X, Y, and Z.
Normally, we'd say 'but' in response, which can lead the conversation in a negative direction.

For example, let's say we were discussing sales.

If someone pointed out that our prices are higher than the competition, a typical 'but' response might be, "But we put more into research and development." This response brushes off what they said and insists that we're right.

However, when you say, "Yes, our prices are higher, and that's because we really focus on research and development," it changes everything. This use of 'and' acknowledges their point and highlights the positive side of it.

Interestingly, the tone also changes with 'but' and 'and'.

'But' sounds abrupt and defensive; however 'and' softens things up and makes the conversation more open. When you say 'but', it's like building a wall between you and the other person. 'And', on the other hand, bridges the gap and makes the conversation friendlier.

So, picking between 'but' and 'and' matters. It's not just about your words – it's how you say them and how they make people feel. Using 'but' sounds like you're shutting down the conversation, while 'and' sounds more open and welcoming. It's these little things that add up to better conversations.

Conversational intelligence is all about transformation, co-creation, and experimenting, but we'll return to those.

Redirecting: From Problems to Strengths

[Listen at approximately 22:19]

Let's move on to redirecting - How can we nudge people away from thinking about problems and towards thinking about their hopes and dreams?

Nuala:

We had a recent coaching session with a young person, and his greatest concern was that he was diagnosed with ADHD, which could be seen as a problem going into the working world.

And in the conversation, we redirected by saying:

  • You could view this as a problem going into the working world, or you could view it as how does this help you have a superpower?
  • What can you do because of how you are made up that makes you more heroic in what you do, braver, more able, more capable?

And it was such an incredible, complete shift in energy, where he said,

'I've got an example of that. We were given this project that you had to take from 2d into a 3d CAD drawing, and I was the only one who could do it. It was the only one who could visualise it. No one else could picture how to do that. And I was the first one who got it and got it done.'

And I told him that was awesome and asked the question:
'So, do you have a problem? Or do you have a superpower?'

This switch in mindset from problem to possibility is what it's all about - like flipping a switch to see the brighter side of things and then figuring out how to make that brightness shine even more.

Introducing Double-Clicking

And now, let's talk about one of our favourites: Double-Clicking.

Each of these essentials is like a tool in your conversational toolkit. You don't need to use all of them at once. Double-clicking is like your handy Swiss Army knife – versatile and useful in different situations.

When we started this episode, we mentioned that 9 out of 10 chats miss the mark. That stat comes from Judith E. Glaser's research.

She's the brains behind Conversational Intelligence and has spent over 30 years digging into this stuff, working with universities and in the field. The idea of double-clicking is part of the treasure trove of insights she's gathered.

We've found that double-clicking is like a universal translator.

It works its magic in multicultural and multilingual situations, where words might get tangled, but the essence needs to shine through.

It's one of our secret weapons in the conversational toolkit.

[Listen at approximately 25:11]

And here's where you introduce double-clicking to a work site.

Sometimes, we might feel a bit sheepish about saying, "I don't get it," or "I need more info," or "I'm not sure." You can turn it around and, instead, explain the meaning so that everybody understands what we mean by double-clicking.

What it is:

When you want to open a file folder, you double-click on it with your computer mouse. That action reveals more details nested beneath it – maybe a couple more folders. You keep double-clicking until you reach the meat of the information you're after.

Instead of blurting out, "I'm clueless about this," or "I don't quite follow," you can pose a question, "Can I double-click on that?" It's a subtle way of saying, "Give me more."

Or you can inquire further, like when someone mentions, "We need to tackle X, Y, and Z."
You might ask, "What do you mean by that?" or "Could you elaborate?"

This approach digs deeper, ensuring that both sides share the same understanding when the conversation wraps up. Even seemingly straightforward terms can mean different things to different folks.

Nuala:

Take "toast," for example. For me, "toast" signifies a slice of bread popped into a toaster that turns golden on both sides before it pops up.

In Turkish culture, I have learned that when I ask for toast, I end up with a toasted sandwich, or what I would presume is a toasted sandwich. So when I first ordered toast, I got something I was not expecting because I made the assumption that it's the same for everybody around the world.

I wasn't complaining as I got more than I bargained for, but if it's not more than you bargained for, it can be a nasty surprise. So it's a great way to pull more until you can walk away with a mutual understanding of where we are.

In teams, we often discuss team rituals and agreements.

You could employ this term, double-click, or develop your own version – like saying, "Can I high-five?" The beauty of "double-click" lies in its universality. You can utter, "Can I double click on that?" and everyone gets it—no further explanation is required.

Because, let's face it, in some situations, it's tough to say to a supervisor, "I didn't catch what you said." It might come off as disrespectful in certain environments. It depends on the context.

But within a team, you can create a shared understanding.

Make "double-click" a team agreement, hang up pictures of computer mice around – whatever tickles your fancy. When someone asks, "Can I double-click on that?" everyone knows you're seeking more information.

That's the beauty of it – it's a helpful conversational tool that reduces the complexity of language. All you have to say is, "Can I double-click on that?" and others will respond, "Okay, you need more info."

That's the essence of "double-clicking" – much like your computer mouse navigating through folders on your screen.

Final Thoughts

This brings us back to that initial point of being 'Open to Influence'.

It's about delving deeper without getting stuck in our version of things or believing that our perspective is definitive.

Through these conversations, by double-clicking and diving deeper, we're embarking on a journey of learning and growth.

We're in a mode of discovery rather than being confined to a fixed mindset. Curiosity and inquisitiveness play a big role here.

Wanting to understand where the other person is coming from has its own positive ripple effects – it shows that you care and contributes to building psychological safety.

These five seemingly small aspects have the potential for exponential impact.

The 5 Conversational Intelligence Essentials:

  • First and foremost, being open to influence,
  1. Priming for trust,
  2. Asking questions for which you have no answers,
  3. Listening to connect, not judge or reject,
  4. Sustaining conversational agility
  5. Double-clicking.

This is just the beginning of our Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) series.

Our intention is to give you some tools that can help guide you on your conversational intelligence journey. We also know it's not easy. We are certified C-IQ coaches, and we'd love to help. We have some tools to measure conversational patterns; in fact, one of our favourite tools for one-on-one leadership coaching is called conversational intelligence catalyst.

We have included a free simple download in the resources section below as a handy reminder and a thank you.

Stay Safe, Stay Well.

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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