Conversation: informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons
Talk: to communicate or exchange ideas, information, etc., by speaking: to consult or confer
In organisations the term ‘conversation’ is used with little thought to its form or value. In the last few years I’ve seen the emergence of the phrase ‘let’s have a conversation about that’. On a more global scale we talk about ‘the Climate Change Conversation‘.
But what does that really mean? What does a conversation look like? What SHOULD a conversation look like?
Many hours and much energy is wasted in conversations and meetings. No doubt you’ve had the experience of conversing with colleagues in meetings to realise that the outcome was two hours of your life you will never get back!
Maybe you’ve also experienced the frustration of conversations that seem to go around and around getting nowhere. Or find yourself having the same conversation with a colleague over and over again with no real progress.
We need to take professional conversation to a whole new level of usefulness.
My definition of a powerful conversation is one where ‘people leave that conversation or meeting with different thinking than when they came’.
A powerful conversation or meeting will elicit three outcomes:
- NEW THINKING: a new idea, perspective, solution, motivation, decision, or understanding
- NEXT ACTION: clearly articulated agreement on next steps and agreed actions
- NO EXCUSES: barriers to taking that action are explored and mitigated
Achieving this is not easy, and requires:
- People entering the conversations (and that means EVERYBODY) with the mindset that they are open to leaving with something new, and in fact, committed to finding something new
- A mastery of conversation skill and presence that enables participants to navigate the conversation forward and identify and avoid time and energy wasted on non-useful areas of focus.
We spend 80% of our time in conversation, and an average of 37% of time in meetings. If these are not productive, then this is can be a significant opportunity cost to an organisation.
Try this experiment with your team. Before your next meeting work out the hourly pay rate of each person who will attend the meeting. In simple terms, 8 employees who are all paid $80K a year cost an organisation $55 an hour (without on-costs which are usually calculated at 20%). A two hour meeting would therefore cost $880. If that meeting is held weekly the cost to the organisation is $46,000. At the end of the meeting, share that information and ask if the teams believes that time was a reasonable cost to the organisation.
The reality is that conversation IS the most sophisticated technology we have for getting things done, and we underestimate its power when done masterfully, and it’s drain when done poorly, yet organisations do not invest in developing this critical creativity and productivity skill.