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By Judith E. Glaser 

Conversations can be dynamic, interactive and inclusive – impacting the way we connect, engage, interact and influence others, and enabling us to shape reality, mindsets, events and outcomes in a collaborative way.

They can move us from power over others to power with others, bridging reality gaps between how you see things and I see things.

Conversational intelligence (C-IQ) often separates those who succeed from those who fail – in business and in relationships of all kinds. Intelligent conversations are sources of energy and intimacy, connection and communication that empower us to launch transformational products and projects into the world. They are the golden threads that allow us to move toward and trust others; however, these threads can also unravel, causing us to avoid others in fear of loss and pain. Unhealthy conversations are at the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal and avoidance – resulting in low productivity and profitability.

Words are the symbols we use to view, think about and process our perceptions of reality and the means of sharing our perceptions with others. Yet few leaders see “words” through this perspective, and therefore lack insight as to how vital conversation is to the health, productivity and “sanity” of their culture.

By learning how conversations trigger different parts of our brain, and how they either catalyze or freeze our brains in protective patterns, you can develop the conversational intelligence skills to build healthier, more resilient organizations.

What is conversational intelligence?

Conversations are the way we connect, engage, navigate and transform the world with others. High performance depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depend on the intelligence of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations.

Strengthen relationships and results

As we communicate, we read the content and emotions being sent our way and we send content and emotions to others. Conversations are more than the information we share and the words we speak. They offer a way to package our feelings about our world, others and ourselves.

As leaders, we communicate that we are upset or happy with almost every conversation. As we come to understand the power of language in regulating how people feel every day, and the role language plays in the brain’s capacity to expand perspectives and create a feel-good experience, we can learn to shape our workplace in profound ways.

C-IQ gives us the power to influence the way we interpret reality

Conversations impact different parts of the brain in different ways, because different parts of the brain are listening for different things. By understanding the way conversations impact our listening, we can determine how we listen – and how we listen determines how we interpret and make sense of our world.

Creating conversational mindfulness

As you learn how to navigate the three levels of conversations – Transactional (how to exchange data and information); Positional (how to work with power and influence); and Transformational (how to co-create the future for mutual success) – your conversations become healthier and lead to trust and transformational results. Healthy conversations are built on high trust. Trust is centered in the prefrontal cortex and distrust in the amygdala and limbic areas of the brain. We know this because these areas light up when a person is asked to respond to questions or to perform activities that stimulate “trust” or “distrust.”

Fear and distrust close down our brains. You can create the conversational space that creates deeper understanding and engagement rather than fear and avoidance by doing three things:

1. Be mindful of your conversations and the emotional content you bring – either pain or pleasure. Are you sending friend or foe messages? Are you sending the message, “You can trust me to have your best interest at heart” or “I want to persuade you to think about things my way”? When you’re aware of these meta-messages, you can create a safe culture that allows all parties to interact at the highest level, sharing perspectives, feelings and aspirations and elevating insights and wisdom.

2. Know that conversations trigger emotional reactions. Conversations carry meaning – and meaning is embedded in the listener even more than in the speaker. Words either cause us to bond and trust more fully, thinking of others as friends and colleagues, or they cause us to break rapport and think of others as enemies. Your mind will open as you see the connection between language and health, and you’ll learn how to create healthy organizations through your conversational rituals.

3. Remember, the words we use in our conversations are rarely neutral. Words have histories informed by years of use. Each time a new experience overlays another meaning on a word, the information gets collected in our brains to be activated during conversations. Knowing how you project meaning into your conversations will enable you to connect with others and, in so doing, let go of much of the self-talk that diverts you from working together effectively.

By understanding how conversations trigger different parts of the brain and stimulate certain habits and behaviours, you can develop and grow your C-IQ to build healthier, more resilient organizations in the face of change.

What we think, what we say, what we mean, what others hear and how we feel about it afterward are key dimensions behind C-IQ. Though conversations are not simply “ask and tell” levels of discourse, we often treat them as though they are.

How it all fits together

When we are having a good conversation, even a difficult one, we feel good

We feel connected to the other person in a deep way and we feel we can trust him. In good conversations, we know where we stand with others – we feel safe.

Trust is a key descriptor of a good conversation. People will say, “I feel open and trusting. I could say what was on my mind.” Or, “I don’t have to edit anything, and
I can trust it won’t come back to hurt me.”

Conversations are the golden threads, albeit fragile ones that keep us connected to others. We have hardwired systems exquisitely designed to let us know where we stand with others; based on our quick read of a situation, our brains know whether we should operate in a protective mode or be open to sharing, discovery and influence.

When we are in conversation with others, perhaps even before we open our mouths, we size them up and determine whether we trust or distrust them; once this happens, our brains are ready to either open up or close down. Bad conversations trigger our distrust network and good ones trigger our trust network. Each influences what we say, how we say it and why we say it, and the networks even have a heavy hand in shaping the outcomes of each conversation.

Have extraordinary, transformational conversations with others

C-IQ competence enables us to connect, engage and navigate with others. It is the single most important intelligence that gets better when “we” do it. Our individual capacity for C-IQ expands when we practice it with others and when we all focus on it together. C-IQ exists as a collaborative effort, and when we practice it together we raise the C-IQ of relationships, and we can also raise the C-IQ of teams and organizations. And, because C-IQ leverages all other kinds of individual intelligences, there is neither a more powerful skill nor a more necessary one to master. C-IQ provides a framework and practices for the way individuals, teams and organizations listen, engage, architect and influence the moment and shape the future, in all situations. When we use our C-IQ in business, we strengthen the culture to achieve better results.

We often communicate with others as if we all share the same world – which causes conflict and collisions

To become good at C-IQ, we need to recognize that the map is not the territory and spend more time joining the two through conversations. Our minds create biases, blind spots and filters that prevent us from seeing reality as it is. C-IQ is about creating an ongoing dialogue with others, to explore our maps and to stay in touch with one another’s evolution of thinking as we work together to achieve shared goals. Whether you are working in a small business or a large global company, elevating your C-IQ will be a life-changing experience that will not only yield business results, it will create new energy for transformation and growth.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013)

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