Creating Great Conversations

Recently I met with an audience of professionals. We were all strangers. Within ten minutes, we were sharing our deepest feelings and the collective learning was spiraling upward. At the end of 90 minutes, I felt deeply connected and grateful. Together we had crafted greatness.

Often I start such a session by avoiding an introduction. I begin by creating immediate engagement. The first thing I do is ask the people in different areas of the room to write and share an answer to questions like this: “What is the difference between a good and a great conversation/relationship/marriage/team/ organization?” I then ask them to discuss their conclusions with someone they do not know. After their exchange, we collectively debrief and I record their answers. When all the answers are recorded, I ask, “What is common across the categories?”

The words they tend to most frequently share are meaning, connection, learning, inspiration, passion, and impact. The two most frequently mentioned are connection and inspiration.

In a great conversation, for example, we may feel that an ordinary exchange begins to take on increased meaning or value. As this happens, we feel increasingly connected to the other person: the cognitive exchange has an emotional consequence. The learning exceeds our expectation and we feel excited, enlightened, or inspired. We feel passionate about some idea and we believe that what we have learned will have an impact, it will make a difference.

This is a description of an emergent process. To emerge is to arise, appear, materialize, surface, or become. Every conversation is an emergent process. Every conversation is a living thing. Some conversations die quickly and some evolve to a higher plane.

When people begin to communicate purposefully and respectfully, connections can intensify and rise to a higher level of quality. This can create in the actors a sense of trust and even selfless contribution to a higher purpose. With trust and selfless contribution comes a sense of equality and hierarchy goes latent. Emotions turn positive. People become more engaged and authentic. In authentic exchanges, vulnerability emerges. Because the conversation is safe and significant, the people can say what they really feel or express ideas about which they are not fully certain. This increases the number and the diversity of ideas available. It then becomes possible to integrate the diverse ideas in new ways. Learning becomes evolution.

In combining ideas, novel or creative products may result. This mutual learning process is often inspirational. Inspirational means stimulating, rousing, moving, motivational. Cognition is joined with emotion. The people feel enlarged and hopeful. There is a growing expectation that life will improve in some way. A great conversation is a living thing. It is a form of life that gives life and can improve life.

When I use this process to initiate a session, the process often becomes a great conversation. The participants co-create life. They become energized and hopeful. I also become energized and hopeful. Both the participants and the teacher have increased capacity to move forward. There is an increased probability that together we can create great conversations the remainder of the day.

Often we think of great conversations as a happy accident. We tend to do the same for relationships, marriages, teams, and organizations. In a session like the one I describe here, I initiate a great conversation with intention. I then nurture the emergent process, cherish the outcomes, and use the learning to move into a day of great, collaborative learning. I like to think of a class as a relationship, marriage, team, or organization, and I like to believe that I can nurture greatness.

This belief raises a profoundly important question: is it possible to learn to bring about great conversations, relationships, marriages, teams, or organizations? The answer is yes. The answer is leadership. Creating inspiring connections is what leaders do. They act so as to increase the probability that knowing turns to learning and that bad, normal, or good becomes great. Leaders are not born with this capacity. They acquire it through purpose, mindful engagement, experimentation, and continual learning.

Reflection

  • When is the last time you had a great conversation?
  • What would it take for you become a consistent creator of great conversations?
  • What could you do to start today?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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