I believe that every human being is on a life quest to answer these 2 important questions:
Who am I?
What is my purpose?
All of our pursuits seek to answer these questions. Who am I in my family? In my community? In my relationships? In my work? What makes me valuable and unique? How do others feel about me?
And – what am I supposed to do about it? What can I contribute to the world? What lights me up? What do I have to give?
We ask these questions because we were made to connect. We each possess a deep desire to belong and to be accepted, to be valued and to be seen. We want to make an impact on the world around us, however big or small that may be.
And in order to answer these questions – to discover who we are and what we were made to do - we have to have conversations. In the best conversations, I not only get to “be” myself, but I get to “become” the fullest version of that self because of my connection to the other person.
Human connection doesn’t just make us feel better about ourselves; it actually allows us to transform into better people.
Therefore, my goal is to have as many life-changing conversations as possible.
The Problem with Conversations
In my experience, most of us do not know how to have powerful conversations that co-create meaning. Share power. Validate vulnerability. Establish connection. In fact, according to the CreatingWE Institute, 9 out of 10 conversations completely miss the mark (i.e., fail to achieve the intentions of the speakers).
Not only this, but I think most of us are afraid to have the truly meaningful (read: DIFFICULT) conversations that have the real power to change us!
The problem with avoiding to have, or failing within, these powerful conversations is that the less I share, the more the other person imagines they understand (and our imaginations are a wild place!).
You see, knowledge doesn’t just come from information. Sure, there’s knowledge of facts (data). But when it comes to relationships, knowledge is fuzzy at best. What we “know” about another person is a combination of what we experience, what we feel, and what we believe. None of that is objective because it is all based on our interpretation of what took place.
This is why two people can have the same conversation and remember it completely differently. Most of the time, when we listen to each other, we are listening to confirm what we already believe. In other words, we are waiting for the other person to say something that lines up with something we already “know” (or, think we know, or believe we know). It’s how we’re wired – our brains conserve energy by searching to latch onto what already makes sense to us. Daniel Kahneman calls our brains “a machine for jumping to conclusions”.
All of this happens every 7-10 seconds in a conversation. Our brains work very fast! As a result, most conversations look something like this, between co-workers Beth and Jane:
Jane: I think our team should have lunch together once a week.
Beth: I think that would be really hard to organize. Too many schedules would have to line up.
Jane: But it happens fairly regularly even without organizing it. So I’d just like to make it a regular thing.
Beth: Yeah, but whenever our team tries to formalize something it eventually falls apart, so I think it would be better to just keep it natural and see what happens.
On the surface, this conversation seems totally benign. You may have had many similar conversations. Jane made a suggestion, Beth refuted it, and the conversation ended.
But did either person actually connect with the other?
Jane wanted to have lunch with her team because she often forgets to eat, so having the scheduled commitment would make sure that she follows through. She knows that taking breaks and eating is important to her overall healthy functioning at work. From Jane’s perspective, the conversation went like this:
Jane: I need help taking breaks, so will you help me by eating with me once a week?
Beth: No way! I don’t have time for that.
Jane: But I’ve seen you have lunch regularly with the rest of the team.
Beth: I’d rather make time for them than for you.
Jane may have left this conversation feeling like Beth didn't care about her. But Beth didn’t hear Jane’s request for help. Beth heard a suggestion to add another commitment to her already busy schedule. She likes Jane and would feel guilty if she had to cancel lunch plans, so she’d rather avoid that possibility. From Beth’s perspective, the conversation went like this:
Jane: I’d like to add more commitments to our busy work day by scheduling time together.
Beth: I’m so overwhelmed right now, I don’t know how I could fit something else in.
Jane: Why don’t you manage your time better?
Beth: I’m just so worried about disappointing you, that I’d rather not try this.
Beth may have left this conversation feeling stressed about Jane's request and worried that she may be letting Jane down in other areas of their working relationship. But the truth is, there was SO MUCH MORE happening in this conversation than either woman realized, and because they missed the opportunity to connect, they left the conversation frustrated, hurt, and feeling more alone.
Healthy Conversations -> Healthy People
A powerful conversation takes a lot of work. It takes concentration on curiosity rather than certainty. It takes self-awareness of our emotions (which comes from self-awareness of our bodies) and the courage to articulate what is really happening inside.
Conversations matter because they are the source of meaning for us. What happens in a conversation translates into what we think about ourselves (who am I?) and our purpose (what value do I bring?).
The best conversations help us not feel alone by making us seen, affirming our value, and letting us contribute. A better conversation for Beth and Jane could look more like this:
Jane: I think our team should have lunch together once a week.
Beth: I feel like we already do that fairly regularly, but maybe it doesn't seem that way to you. Is there some reason you are thinking about this?
Jane: Well, I’m really not taking care of myself right now. I need help taking breaks at work, and I think a planned lunch commitment would make me do it.
Beth: I had no idea that you were having trouble with that, but I definitely want to help. I feel overwhelmed with work right now, so I’m worried I’d have to cancel a lot if we planned a regular lunch date. Is there something else I could do?
Jane: I totally get it. I don’t want to add to your schedule! Would you be able to just remind me to take a break and maybe push me out of the office once in a while?
Jane: And is there any way I could help lighten your load?
Can you imagine the difference between how Beth and Jane feel after this conversation? What might be different in their workplace, in their relationship, after this?
Something magical happens when we are willing to expose our true thoughts and when the other person is willing to truly listen. When we are really seen, our entire bodies open up to possibilities. We can be more creative, more courageous, when we believe that others are for us.
There [are] patterns about human interactions that we all share, patterns that have to do with how conversations make us healthy or unhealthy…
To be healthy, human beings need to connect, belong, and be strong. We must learn to have strong points of view, have a voice, and to partner with others…
When we choose an action that moves us toward connecting with others, we physically excite different sets of neurons [in our brains] and ignite new ways of thinking.”
Do you want to have conversations that connect, inspire, and transform?
I just completed six months of enhanced coach training in Conversational Intelligence with Judith Glaser, and I am passionate about spreading these skills to every leader possible.
To do this, I offer FREE 90-MINUTE calls with mission-driven leaders who want to improve the quality of their conversations at home and in their work.
What could one powerful conversation change for you? Are you willing to find out? Click the button below and let's get started!