Productive conversations take time. They contain personal reflection and emotional self-management, perhaps also preparation. They certainly utilise active listening, a desire to be clear, to collaborate and to follow-up. Rushing is the enemy of a constructive conversation.
Yet conversational skills are almost never taught in schools, and are actively being eroded with the ever increasing modalities available to us to communicate in short-hand – texting, emailing, instant chat (often with auto-suggest). Actively building your conversational skills, and taking time with others to have these conversations, takes effort. But it’s effort well spent. It says ‘I want to understand you and build ideas and ways forward with you, it’s important to me, and I’m willing to invest the time to do it.’ As a leader, the way you converse with those around you lets people know the degree to which you value them (or not).
There are important elements in a constructive conversation. Here are some of our top tips-
Most important is the ability to listen. Listening is not just something we do as we impatiently wait our turn to speak next. Active listening is something that feeds our understanding of the other person and the situation they are describing. We listen with our ears and eyes – not jumping to conclusions, and not being busy in our mind creating the next thing we are going to say. We are curious and patient. As the saying goes, active listening is not listening to respond. It’s listening to understand.
Empathy and compassion are important. Empathy is our ability to take the perspective and feel the emotions of another – to stand in another’s shoes. Compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. A constructive conversation has within it the wish to help the other person express themselves clearly. Perhaps we ask questions to help this process, perhaps we check our understanding of what the other person is saying and feeling – for example, “it sounds like you are disappointed because...”, or perhaps we simply stay silent and listen without judgement.