Meaningful Conversations: 7 Steps To Mastery

The Alchymist’s Corner: Keeping It Real

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Personal development or applied psychology has been around for a long time. Self help books are always a bestseller on Amazon. And, if you follow the numerous gurus in the personal development field on social media or attend their seminars, they all seem to portray the perfect lifestyle – they have a wonderful relationship with their pretty or handsome partner, an abundance of financial wealth and their life is mapped out according to each segment of their wheel of life. In essence,  they are living the dream life.

Having studied and applied various aspects of personal development for the last 20 years in my own life, I am publishing a weekly post of how I use the personal development tools and techniques that I teach in order to create and live my high performance lifestyle. This post is meant to be real and unvarnished. Some posts highlight the successes and some posts highlight the failures that I have had in the week and how I have managed my successes and overcome the challenges of my failures.

Three Different Types Of Conversations And Emotions

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This week I have had several difficult conversations with people in my team and the students that I teach which caused me to reflect on how to manage conversations with people so that they are generative in nature. We interact with numerous people on a daily basis. Some conversations are light and don’t involve potential conflict. For example, maybe we say good morning to the person we are standing next to on the platform while we are waiting for the tube to arrive. Some conversations may be nondescript, for example we have a light conversation in the staffroom regarding the latest sports scores or the latest movie that is playing at the movie theatre. And some conversations are heavy and involve potential conflict. For example, maybe we have to have a conversation with one of our students regarding their performance in the course or a conversation with a member of our team about how they are not completing the work that has been assigned to them.

Your viewpoint on conflict between people will filter the emotion that you associate with the three different types of conversation mentioned above. Some people believe that conflict is bad and is destructive in nature and other people believe that conflict is good and is where growth occurs. If you believe that conflict is bad then you will associate a negative emotion with a conversation that involves potential conflict. If you believe that conflict is good then you will associate a positive emotion with a conversation that doesn’t involve any potential conflict.

What are your thoughts on conflict in a conversation? How you think about conflict will effect your emotional state regarding a conversation.

Begin With The End In Mind

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As Stephen Covey said “begin with the end in mind”. Although Covey was referring to goal-setting, his quote can also be applied to the conversations that we have as part of our daily lives. Before starting a conversation, ask yourself “what is the positive intention of this conversation?” If we do this then it allows us to frame the conversation in a positive light. Maybe our positive intention of saying hello to the barista that makes our morning coffee is to brighten up their day as they serve coffee to a long line of customers who may be rather grumpy. Maybe our positive intention of joining in with the conversation in the staffroom regarding the latest sports scores is to build bridges with other team members and strengthen the team. Or maybe our positive intention of having a difficult conversation with one of our students is to help them be successful in their course.

How would asking yourself the question “what is the positive intention of this conversation” affect your next conversation? Would it allow you to reframe it in a positive light? Would it create a pathway to making sure the conversation was generative in nature?

The Order Of Positions

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Once you have established the positive intention of the conversation the next step is to view the conversation from three different perspectives or perceptual positions: first position, second position and third position. Each perceptual position is based on how the individual filters the situation through their own beliefs, values and perception of reality. First position is from your perspective, second position is from the other person’s perspective and third position is how your interaction with the other person looks to an observer viewing the conversation.

I use this technique a lot in my conversations with people because it allows me to gain some valuable insight and generates questions that I can ask during the conversation to achieve a positive outcome. As I mentioned earlier, this week I had a few difficult conversations with some of my students regarding their performance in my course. Before I met with my students I asked myself the question “what is the positive intention of this conversation” and the answer was “to help my students reach their true potential in the course”.

I then visualised the conversation from three different perspectives or perceptual positions. From the first position (my perspective), I believe that I have written and taught a good quality course. I also believe that I come across to my students as someone who is approachable, takes constructive feedback and who alters their approach to tradecraft accordingly. So, the question I had initially for my students was “how can I help you be more successful in the course?” In my mind, the responsibility for their performance in the course rested with them. However, from second position (their perspective), I could see that they could have life challenges that were affecting their performance in the course, maybe they were burnt out with the course, or maybe they weren’t connecting with certain aspects of the course material. Once I had visualised the conversation from their perspective, my question list expanded to include questions such as “what do  I need to change in my approach to teaching to help you be more successful in the course?” and “what three strategies can you use to improve your performance in the course?” From third position (observer perspective), I could see that I would need to build rapport with my students by careful use of eye contact, gestures and maintaining an open body language. I would also have to use language patterns that established rapport and created a safe place for them to express their concerns and doubts by careful use of voice tonality and phrasing of my thoughts.

At the end of the conversation, its always best practice to close the conversation on a positive note. The reason for this is that cognitive research has shown that people remember the last event more clearly than the previous event. For example, if you are telling someone about a movie you saw on the weekend, what comes to mind more easily? How the movie ended or the middle portion of the movie? So, when ending a conversation, recap the important points of the conversation and end the conversation on an emotional high note.

Using these techniques, the conversation with my students was productive. I started the conversation with a positive intention in mind and had visualised the conversation from three different perspectives. I also had a mental list of questions that I would ask during the conversation and a structure of how I wanted the conversation to come to a natural conclusion. And, I had also thought about how I could end the conversation on an emotional high for my students.

How could you use these techniques in your conversations? How would the quality of your conversations improve if you visualised the conversation from three different perspectives before you had the conversation? How would you start and end your conversations.

7 Steps To Create A Generative Conversation

rodion-kutsaev-101716-unsplashIn order to have high performance conversations with your partner or members of your team use the following steps:

  1. Review your beliefs regarding conflict in conversation.
  2. Establish your positive outcome for the conversation.
  3. View the conversation from three different perceptual positions: first (yours), second (other person) and third (observer).
  4. Create a list of open ended questions that you want to ask during the conversation that are generative in nature.
  5. Consider how you would have to maintain your physiology (eye contact, gestures and body language) in order for the conversation to be successful.
  6. Consider what language patterns (voice tonality and phrasing) you would have to use in order for the conversation to be successful.
  7. Establish a positive ending for the conversation.

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