Get Better Results By Getting Better at Conversations

Misha Glouberman—Communications Expert & Problem Untangler, Featured Speaker, IBAOcon’23

Being better at conversations can have huge influences on what matters most for your company. 

People bring me into their companies because they have something they want to improve. Retention isn’t what it should be. Some processes seem inefficient. There are silos that don’t collaborate well. Customer loyalty needs to be higher. 

Usually, the solution isn’t technical. What needs to happen is for the people involved to collaborate and communicate more effectively, share knowledge they already have and reach decisions together. The solution is to have better conversations. 

Better conversations can feel like a touchy-feely nice to have topic. But often, getting better at talking to the people around you is the most impactful thing you can do to solve your company’s biggest challenges. 

Getting better at this can be a lifelong journey. That said, here are five strategies you can use right away that I’ve seen be enormously transformative in the leaders I’ve worked with. 

1. Actually have the conversation.

When I began doing this work twenty years ago, I thought the challenge would be helping people get better at conversation. But I’ve since learned that the biggest problem isn’t that people are bad at conversations. It’s that they don’t have the conversation at all. The first way I can help people is to encourage them to have the conversations they’re avoiding. These conversations can be daunting, but developing the courage to have them is massively helpful. Simply making a habit of raising difficult issues, even small ones, is an exercise I’ve seen make a huge difference for my clients.

2. When you have the conversation, actually say the thing.

There’s an exercise I do with leaders: When a conversation goes poorly, write down what they said, along with everything they thought. Almost always, there are important things people thought that they didn’t say. You don’t have to blurt out everything in your head, but as a general rule, if something is being said loudly in your head it should be addressed. 

People often say something close to the issue without naming it. For example, if a senior leader is routinely late for meetings, a team member might say, “The meeting started at nine.” But this doesn’t name all the issues: The person was late. It’s a pattern. People are upset about it. These are all things to name directly. 

3. Remember, your story is just one story.

Our lives are stories. In my story, I’m the main character. My problems are the most important. My values are the most relevant. But every person we interact with is the main character in their story, with their own problems, values, and information. To solve a problem with another person, you need to get outside your story and see how it looks when they are the main character. This is critical to having useful conversations.  

4. Be candid about your story and curious about theirs.

Candour means telling people what’s important to you. Open-mindedness means being curious about what’s important to others. In fruitful conversations, you’re telling as much of your story and understanding as much of their story as you can while remembering that these are just stories. A productive conversation creates a new, shared story that gets you closer to a solution.

5. Emotions are part of the process. Talk about them. 

One of the things I love about my work is that it combines rigorous analytical thinking with genuine human emotions. Often in workplaces we imagine we are supposed to check our emotions at the door, but that’s not how humans work. We can’t just turn off our feelings. So what happens—especially when the stakes are high—is everyone sits around having strong feelings that don’t get expressed (until sometimes they blow up), even though those feelings drive the conversation. Getting in the habit of talking about emotions is really important. That includes your feelings about the conversation—your apprehension to broach the topic, and your frustration with a conversation that feels stuck. 

Getting better at this is worth it for your business, your profession, and your growth.

My work is deeply motivated by the idea that workplaces can be places of personal growth. Teams that function better serve the bottom line, but also foster deeper, more meaningful relationships and rewarding work environments; and the lessons usually apply both at work and at home. Getting better at relating to others in a way that’s authentic and vulnerable can be a deeply rewarding experience. 

About Misha Glouberman

Misha Glouberman helps leaders at midsize to large companies do things like increase employee retention, create greater customer loyalty, improve communication between silos and create more effective senior leadership teams.

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