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Conversational Intelligence And The Government Shutdown

A couple of things happened on October 1 that I want to discuss here.

First the US government shut down due to a budget impasse over the Affordable Care Act.  Second, a book called Conversational Intelligence by my friend Judith Glaser was released.  It became an instant bestseller on Amazon.com.

No matter which side of the ACA debate you’re on, you can probably agree that there wasn’t much intelligent conversation going on in Washington in late September and early October.  In Conversational Intelligence, Judith explains why.

She suggests that “everything happens through conversation” and that there are three types of conversations:

Transactional, in which two parties do little more than share information.

Persuasive, in which one or both parties attempts to bring the other to their point of view.

Transformational, in which both parties co-create innovative solutions to thorny problems.

If you watched the ACA drama unfold it was clear that almost everyone involved was operating in the persuasive mode, which according to the neuroscience behind Conversational Intelligence triggers the lower, more primitive brain – the amygdala, which is prone to distrust and paranoia.  Distrust and paranoia were rampant during the crisis.

According to Judith, transformational conversations, trigger the prefrontal cortex in the brain and lead to trust, empathy, strategic thinking and good judgment.

Dysfunctional conversations aren’t limited to the political arena.  As the government shutdown was happening, I read an article called “Sales – Marketing Misalignment Hamstrings CRM.”  It part it said, “While the two sides are warring over who’s to blame for lackluster sales, there’s little chance they’ll get together and cooperate around customer data that can benefit both Sales and Marketing.” That’s the problem with operating from distrust and paranoia

On the other hand, if Sales and Marketing “get together and cooperate” they will be operating at the transformational conversation level.  Judith says that as human beings we are hard wired to want to operate at this level, but that negative experiences often push us to operate at a lower level.

To conduct transformational conversations you need to train yourself to do three things.

First, listen to connect, not reject; second, be open to influence; and third, be willing to change your mind.  Sounds simple, but as the government shutdown and CRM article show, this happens all too infrequently in everyday life.

I make similar suggestions, based on my experience — not neuroscience, in my career advice book Success Tweets.   Tweet 133 says, “Resolve conflict positively.  Treat conflict as an opportunity to strengthen, not destroy your relationships.”  Tweet 134 says, “Settle disputes and resolve difference quickly. Engage the other person in meaningful conversation.”  Tweet 135 says, “Be a consensus builder.  Focus on where you agree with others.  It will be easier to resolve difference and create agreement.” 

When you engage in transformation conversations – especially with those with whom you are in conflict – you not only are likely to resolve the conflict in a positive manner, you will strengthen your relationship with the other person.  It’s a win-win.

To do this, focus on your similarities, not your differences.  This creates a bond that will not only help the two of you get through your conflict, it will help you develop innovative solutions to problems and issues and strengthen your relationship.  Engaging in transformational conversations, no matter what your primitive brain is screaming at you, is a no-brainer.

Initiate transformation conversations by looking for any small point of agreement (like we both want the country to grow and prosper) and then building on it.

It is easier to reach a larger agreement when you build from a point of small agreement, rather than attempting to tear down the other person’s points with which you don’t agree.

Our primitive brain tells us not to do this.  So we get caught up in proving our point.  We hold on to it more strongly when someone else attacks it.  But if you turn around the discussion and say, “Let’s focus where we agree, and see if we can build something from there,” you are operating from your higher brain and making the situation less personal and less threatening.

Transformational conversations create a situation where two people can work together to figure out a mutually agreeable, and innovative solution to their disagreement.  This is because neither party is tearing down the other’s arguments just to win the battle.  Try initiating transformational conversations.  They work.  Neuroscience – and common sense — says so.

Read more posts by Bud Bilanich, Ed.D., The Common Sense Guy, a career success coach, leadership consultant, motivational speaker, bestselling author and influential blogger for JenningsWire.