As a leader, you set the behavioural tone for your team and for your organisation or business as a whole. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you shape your culture through how you interact with the people around you, how you communicate and how you treat colleagues.

A key part of this is how you talk and listen to others. Unknowingly, you may be shutting down potentially creative conversations, stifling others’ contributions and failing to build trust and connections. Through greater understanding of what can be going on at different levels in a conversation, you can develop better ‘conversational intelligence’, creating a more connected and, in the long term, more creative and trusting environment – bringing people together to open up business potential and success.

What’s going on in a conversation?

Conversations are very rarely just an exchange of information. There can be power issues unconsciously being played out, judgement of others, lack of interest in the individual and point scoring, or there can be connection, a curiosity about another, an affirmation of someone’s worth and relationship building. Such treatment of others in a conversation can, as Judith E. Glaser explained in her book Conversational Intelligence – How great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results, create chemical shifts in the brain, with strong reactions and potentially positive or negative impact.

By understanding the potential impact of team and one-to-one conversations, you can work on improving your conversational intelligence for the benefit of all involved.

How can you improve your conversational intelligence?

Don’t dominate: A conversation where one person is talking over others, not giving other people the chance to speak is not really a conversation at all. It implies you don’t really value the other’s opinion and, by extension, them. And such dominance can cause frustration and agitation in the listeners, producing the stress hormone cortisol, which means not only are they not receptive to what you’re telling them, they are also unlikely to engage with the project or put forward ideas in future.

Listen to connect: In a conversation, often people aren’t really listening to each other; instead they are waiting for the moment they can make their point, prove they are ‘right’ or thinking about what they are expected to say. They are in a mindset to judge what the other person is saying compared to their own thoughts. However, by properly listening and looking to connect with the other person, it builds trust and better communication, boosting bonding.

Be curious: The danger for many of us is that we’re ‘addicted to being right’ and it can feel good to feel we have got all the answers in a business project conversation and push our view through to get things sorted quickly. But, by focusing on just one view – our own – we lose the opportunity to discover other options and develop the team collaboration and co-creation potential. So be curious and ask questions where you don’t know the answer; find out how someone else sees a possible solution and other ways of thinking about a problem. It will open up dialogue and ideas – which long term has to be better for all involved.

Conversation is a fundamental leadership tool and better conversational intelligence can bring better communication and connection, helping you and your business.

Find out more about conversational intelligence:

Judith Glaser – Develop Your Conversational Intelligence; conversational intelligence article; video of talk

Forbes article – Is Your Leadership Brave Enough To Have The Conversation You Don’t Want To Have?

Build Your Conversation Agility: Align Your Intention with Your Impact

One Thing You Have to Master to Succeed in Business and in Life

Sue Winton is a ‘Developmental’ Leadership coach. An approach characterised by enabling deep self-reflection and discussions, centred around previously unexplored thoughts feelings and experiences. ‘Sue is a highly inspirational leadership coach who has the ability to drive positive personal transformation’ ST, UK & I Strategic & Innovation Managing Director, Experian.