conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

How to help your teammate hatch an idea (Dummy’s Guide to Conversation #22)

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The satisfying work of relating

Some of us find great joy in the work itself: left alone to turn the block on the lathe or write the intro paragraph—we get a tad giddy. Like we know what we are doing (more or less) and this process is stimulating and fun and I can see stuff taking shape.

A friend with a VP-of-Meetings type brain would often jab me with his love of meetings:

Meetings are great. I don’t know why people hate them so. We get so much done.

When he said this I assumed they were great for him because he enjoyed telling others what to do. And his lackeys went and accomplished real stuff. Were meetings great for his lackeys? I have my doubts.

But for many of us, it is difficult to get that sense of getting stuff done with people. Conversation is a messy business that seems to typically lead into a wilderness of tangents and false starts rather than to a place where real stuff happens. Washington is the current poster child for conversation thwarted at every turn.

Must it be that way?

Can you see how a lot of freight gets shifted in a conversation?

Can you see how a lot of freight gets shifted in a conversation?

I can’t prescribe a cure for Washington (though targeting the removal of big money would be a positive first step), but here’s a few suggestions for helping each other hatch big ideas and get stuff done:

  1. Listen. For real—really listen. And repeat back what your colleague says to make sure you get it and to give yourself time to process what your colleague said. Resist the temptation to formulate a counter-argument while appearing to listen. Listen for potential.
  2. Ask your colleague to say more. Gain clarity for yourself and your colleague. Work out the idea together through a volley of responses.
  3. Breathe. That’s right, take a breath so you can stay in the moment and hear your colleague. They might just do the same for you.
  4. Use your words to precisely parse an idea. It’s easy to get sloppy and quickly dismiss ideas (and people, for that matter). Instead, tease out the potential idea you saw. Give it some kindling and fan it and get the fire going.
  5. Say it out loud to get something done. Pulling together an idea that is scattered before a team is sort of like nailing it to the wall for all to see. Once everyone sees it, they can respond. Grabbing the idea and saying it aloud can often feel like work accomplished. It feels that way because it is exactly that.

We do well to pay attention to what our colleagues are saying. And the more attention we pay, the more wealth of ideas and practical insights we might just find. In fact, some people work this way all the time:

 

When we toss things back and forth, there is no compromise at all. That is when it is magic.

–Millman, Debbie. How to think like a great graphic designer. (NY: Allworth Press, 2007). From Emily Oberman & Bonnie Siegler/ Number 17, p.96

 Also: consider returning to David Rock’s Quiet Leadership and check out his tidy six steps

  1. Think about thinking
  2. Listen for potential
  3. Speak with intent
  4. Dance toward insight (Permission + Placement + Questioning + Clarifying)
  5. CREATE New thinking
  6. Follow up

People are never tools or things we manipulate to achieve our desired end. But honoring each other by listening and talking—that’s how real stuff gets done in the real world.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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