Behaviours that discourage conversation

One of the key themes that emerge without fail when I work with leadership groups on the quality of their conversations is quite simple:“If we have more conversations, we will work better together.”

In feedback to leaders, this is also one of the persistent themes: “Talk more with us. Have more conversations with us.”

With more conversations, information will flow more freely: people will be better informed not just about what needs to be done, but also why it matters. Conversations offer us a chance to sort through misunderstandings and crossed lines early on, before lots of tension build up. Conversations help make learning happen – faster and easier.

There are many reasons why there may not be enough “real conversation” in a team and organization. One of these factors is almost totally under our personal control: our own behaviour.

We sometimes behave in ways that discourage conversation. Instead of signaling that we’re open and interested in conversations, we signal in various ways that we’d much rather not talk.

So we leave others reluctant to initiate conversations with us. As a result, over time we have fewer and fewer real conversations – fewer conversations that feed the flow of information and connections in our team and organisations.

Here is a list of ten behaviors that tend to discourage conversation. This is not a complete list, but it can help you raise awareness of where your behaviour might discourage conversations that could contribute to higher performance.

  1. You allow outside things to interrupt the conversation (a phone call, an email coming in …).
  2. You interrupt, even talk over, your conversation partner.
  3. You listen with only half an ear to what your conversation partner is saying, because you are thinking of other things or thinking what to say next.
  4. You ask few or no questions that show genuine curiosity in the issue – or your conversation partner.
  5. You cut the conversation initiated by someone else short by giving an answer, order or opinion without asking any questions to understand better.
  6. You ask questions with a judgmental rather than a curiosity mindset, so that your conversation partner feels as if they are being interrogated.
  7. You talk so much that there is little space for your conversation partner to contribute to the flow – turning the conversation into a one-sided monologue rather than an actual conversation.
  8. You move into critical, negative mode as your default response – focusing on what’s wrong, what will not work, what they did wrong… instead of exploring possibilities and solutions.
  9. You make comments that threaten and/or belittle your conversation partner (or others in your team), by blaming, complaining, or being sarcastic.
  10. You mainly initiate conversations with others when there is a problem or a technical/tactical issue to solve.

For the next week or so observe yourself objectively and honestly. Notice where you are guilty of any of these “conversation discouragers”.

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