„When can we catch up for a chat?” we say when we accidentally bump into an old friend we feel closer to but haven`t seen in a while. Not „when could we catch up for a powerpoint” or „catch up on e-mail”, but „catch up for a chat”. Because talking is, in fact, the most natural way to communicate and express leadership. And even though we feel this to be correct, we manage to avoid talking. Because we`re too busy, too tired, too much in a hurry. But in fact, we are avoiding strengthening a relationship or finding out something new, which might inspire or change us. We end up avoiding the trust a conversation builds by replacing it with a powerpoint, an excel file, an e-mail or an SMS.
What if instead of delivering messages we focused on building relationships?
Most of the time we are under the impression that we have conversations in our work environment but, in fact, we are used to just delivering messages. We enter meetings and talks with a rather defensive mindset, ready to present our „homework” and defend our ideas after we’ve razor-sharpened our arguments. We`re even prepared for possible Q&As and some compromise but we are not so ready to really listen to our conversation partner. We enter that moment certain of our knowledge when, in fact, we should enter it open to new knowledge. About ourselves and the other. The „fast food” philosophy has entered the work environment and we want to deliver our messages faster and run. Because after that comes another task and another and another.
Conversation as a learning moment
If we want to build relationships with those around us we need much more than delivering messages. It`s worth trying to get out of every conversation with the question „What have I learned?”. This is the first step towards leadership through conversation: understanding the fact that each conversation can be a learning opportunity. We can learn something about a new project, process, situation, product, speaker or last but not least, ourselves. To succeed in this, we need to enter that conversational moment open instead of convinced, curious instead of tense. Such a learning dialogue requires slight preparations.
We need to answer a couple of questions like: What information am I going to share and what questions am I going to ask? How could the other see things differently from me and, at the same time, his perspective be valid? If it’s a difficult situation, how have I contributed to it? How does this conversation make me feel? How does it make the other one feel? Why do I believe this? How can I make sure I understand the other`s story and how does it fit in the given context? These questions are based on essential conversation principles such as:
- It is irrelevant who is right
- We do not deliver messages, we share information and ask questions
- Anybody means well, no matter how they express that
- Curiosity trumps certainty
- It does not matter whose fault it is. What matters is who and how they contributed to the current situation.
- If we are in a difficult situation, we have surely contributed to it ourselves.
Leadership as a sum of conversations
There are plenty of definitions for leadership but almost everybody agrees that you can influence and lead people only after winning their trust. We know too well that trust is a fragile thing, that it’s hard to gain it but easy to lose it. The interesting challenge lies in how we can build trust easier and here is where we have no doubts: through deeper, better, constant conversations.
Only when we decide to open ourselves to learn from each other and be ready to see the world from a different perspective without judging, do we take the first step towards building trust. As we build it, people around us will want to work with us and we will manage to inspire them, without intending to do so. The more we talk and the more profound the talks are, the more we understand our goals and emotions and the ones of our conversation partners. This is why a great leader is much more than a great speaker nowadays. He is a great conversationist.