Why you need conversational intelligence


We all go through our own version of an identity crisis at least once in our life. We ask ourselves, “Should I be a doctor, teacher, entrepreneur or CEO of some global company?” We all want to know where we fit into the world, and where we can make our best contribution.

For example, I discovered I was an organizational anthropologist after struggling for a few decades. I took course after course and program after program, looking for what was right for me. Ultimately, I had to invent a unique identity that fit me. That set me free to focus on doing it rather than worrying about it (and I love what I do).

I study the intersection of leadership, culture and brand — and I help leaders describe, deconstruct, and transform their organizations, leading to higher performance.

From the eyes and heart of an expert

After studying cultures for three decades, I discovered that great leaders, great cultures and great brands share something in common: the “glue” of Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ). When we facilitate great conversations with our internal colleagues and external partners, we shift the energy in relationships toward positive and mutually beneficial outcomes.

Great conversations are transformational, providing leaders with insights like those we get from a great coach who has the amazing ability to activate the wisdom we have inside of us and give us the courage to use that wisdom to enhance the lives of everyone around us.

For example, former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton displayed conversational agility skills when he created “the play inside the play.” That is, in the middle of a game, he could stop, reframe, refocus or redirect a play, and then get back on the field with new moves. He could unstick things that weren’t working right and reset the game. Fran made calls and everyone knew how to move on the field accordingly.

C-IQ teaches you how to be more strategic and more we-centric, and how to pass the ball to others rather than running the field alone. It shows you how to see the whole field, shift in the moment and work with others to execute the game plan. By seeing the bigger picture in a strategic way, you can facilitate big plays with others.

Great leaders, like great coaches or quarterbacks, teach their players “keywords” for moves or plays that should be executed together. The signal can be a word, number or symbol that everyone knows and applies on the field.

Multiple dimensions of conversations

Conversations are not just a one-dimensional sharing of information; they are multi-dimensional. Understanding how to access the right dimension for a situation is the art of conversations.

With C-IQ, there are three levels of conversations, each representing a way of interacting with others. When members of a team, partnership or company learn C-IQ together, they get in sync in extraordinary ways. As a result, the work they do together elevates results to heights never before achieved.

For example, when a leader says, “We need to move to Level III,” everyone knows what that means and moves in sync toward that direction. It transforms a team of leaders in seconds. The coach calls the play, and everyone knows what to do, instantly.

Level I: Transactional conversations
Transactional conversations include interaction dynamics such as “asking and telling.” These types of conversations confirm what we know and give people a platform for giving and receiving information.

Level II: Positional conversations
Positional conversations include interaction dynamics such as “advocating and inquiring.” These conversations allow us to defend what we know and give people a platform for having and expressing a strong opinion about something. In these conversations, we are less open to influence and more interested in selling our ideas.

Level III: Transformational conversations
Transformational conversations, also called co-creating conversations, include interaction dynamics such as “sharing and discovering.” This means asking questions for which you have no answers, listening to the collective, discovering that we don’t know we don’t know, and sharing insights and wisdom. This generative way of having conversations leads to more innovative insights, more disruptive thinking and deeper listening to connect to others’ perspectives. People are more candid, more trusting and more open to influence.

When a team leader knows the calls and can identify which level of conversation to operate from, the rest of the team gets into position and executes plays successfully to score more points for the team. The coach can access people’s best skills for the position they need to be in, and the team can win more games.

Overcoming the addiction to being right

When we feel strongly that our point of view is right, our brain focuses on looking for evidence. We stop listening to other perspectives and fight for our point of view. This causes other people to be afraid of engaging with us and creates a culture of conflict avoidance.

Leaders who are addicted to being right tend to think that everyone else is wrong. They often fail to see and acknowledge the negative impact this has on culture.

Conversational rituals vs. conversational taboos

Conversational rituals are how we architect a conversation and structure interaction dynamics in a conversation. They activate the neurochemicals that drive our conversations and behavior.

Rituals hold all cultures together because they are sticky; they create cultural norms. Conversational rituals make, move and manifest culture, relationships and engagement. Rituals define a culture and transfer norms that hold us together.

While conversational rituals embody what to do, conversational taboos embody what not to do. For example, it may be taboo to tell a boss you disagree with him, or to upstage her. When you engage in a taboo, you usually get into trouble.

The word culture is an abstract term that describes “how we do things around here,” along with many other behaviors that are visible and invisible. Culture includes both visible and invisible things that drive us to connect or disconnect with others. Neuroscience research has identified isolation as the most important reason why people get sick, and fail to achieve their goals. Isolation is like living with a phone that rings but no one answers.

Conversation rituals create culture that activates the “glue” of success. Since conversational rituals embody what to do and conversational taboos embody what not to do, we build communities and cultures as we engage with others over time. We can create a culture of trust using conversational intelligence skills. As the C-IQ skills evolve from Level I to Level III and people get better at using them, the culture evolves. When you start with the basics and build on a strong foundation, your C-IQ skills improve and create a culture of trust.

The foundation of C-IQ

C-IQ starts with five foundational skills:

1) Listen to connect
2) Ask questions for which you have no answers
3) Prime for trust
4) Sustain conversational agility
5) Double-click to get inside of what others are actually seeing, feeling and want to say

You don’t have to be an organizational anthropologist like me to learn the core conversational skills and practice them every day. When you decide to experiment with C-IQ essentials and core methodologies, you’ll see a shift take place in your leaders, culture and brand. A sense of personal identity and responsibility will emerge that propels your organization forward — not as an individual “I” but as a collective “we.”

Power up your C-IQ skills

The power of healthy, transformational conversations can’t be measured on one dimension alone. It impacts three levels: leadership, culture and brand.

C-IQ helps leaders describe, deconstruct and transform their organizations, which leads to greater mutual success. Getting to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations.

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