Have a conversation – and become smarter

Power Listening - Ferrari

Research on teams has shown that the collective intelligence of a team depends on how evenly conversation turn-taking is distributed among the members. The more one or more people dominate the team’s conversations the lower the collective intelligence of the team. The more evenly everyone contributes by speaking out and getting listened to the higher the level of collective intelligence of the team.

This link between intelligence and the turn-taking distribution in conversations can also be extended to one-on-one conversations. In his new book Power Listening, Bernard T Ferrari articulates his approach to conversations as follows:

“I like to go into a conversations asking, ‘What do we both need to get from this interaction so that we both can come out smarter? What do we know or think we know and, of what remains, how much can we find out and how much can’t we?’ ” p. 53

What does it take to approach a conversation with the intention of making both yourself and your conversation partner become smarter? Here are five things you can do that will immediately raise the “smartness quotient” of your conversations.

  1. Slow your mind down before or at the start of a significant conversation. [This can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths to slow your mental processes a few notches down from the usual fast and furious pace you operate in. Slowing down in this way will enable you to pay better attention to the information flow during the conversation. Your mind is more likely to make new connections when in a more relaxed state.]
  2. Be curious – about the topic as well as about the other person’s point of view and thinking about the topic. [Without curiosity we believe we already know it all, and we only hear what confirms our existing biases. When we’re genuinely curious we keep a space in our minds for new and surprising bits of information and new connections among ideas – hence for new learning.]
  3. Listen with intention. [Effective listening is a very active process. Have in mind a bigger picture view of the issue and the variables at play e.g., what is the desired outcome, who are the key players involved, what is at stake, what are the best resources for moving things forward, what are the obstacles that might get in the way, etc.) This will help you know what to listen for, and will help direct attention in the conversation to these key elements.]
  4. Ask more questions to help you discover new information and perspectives before jumping in with your pre-existing answers and solutions. [By asking smart questions you create the possibility of new and even unexpected information coming into the conversation, information that might stimulate new ideas and new learning.]
  5. Become more comfortable with the messiness of conversations that have the potential to create new learning. [Conversations that go beyond the edges of what we already thought we knew are not always linear and logical. Most of us need to become more tolerant of the unknowns floating through such conversations. Instead of driving for closure too fast, we need to be willing to be in the creative messiness that often comes before new learning.]

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