By Nicklas Balboa
Published in: HR.com

Why quality conversations are successful conversations

"Once it is understood how to have productive, quality conversations, individuals and teams can take control of their destiny."  – Judith E. Glaser, Founder of The CreatingWE Institute  

As a researcher who works in Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ)1, I have the opportunity to analyze the impact of conversations that occur in today’s workplace among C-suite leaders, key stakeholders, employees, teams, and entire organizations. Deconstructing conversations is not a one-click task: it takes time to identify both the positive and negative channels of communication. The results provide a fingerprint of behaviors that open up or close down conversations and relationships with others (Fig. 1). 
 
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Figure 1. This graph is a sample from The CreatingWE Institute’s Research into the Chemistry of Conversations. The Catalyst Tools are a powerful set of measurement tools that analyze the frequency of positive oxytocin-producing behaviors versus negative cortisol-producing behaviors that occur during conversations in today’s workplace. The green bars represent oxytocin-producing behaviors. Oxytocin is a biochemical that helps us open up, connect, and bond for healthy conversations. The red bars represent cortisol-producing behaviors. While cortisol is necessary for regulation of stress, immunity and metabolism, too much cortisol can negatively impact the quality of our health and conversations. As we become mindful of the behaviors that open us up and those that close us down, we can learn to deliver feedback in a way that is perceived as inclusive and supportive, thereby limiting cortisol production and stimulating oxytocin instead.

Unlike fingerprints, however, conversational habits can change over time. This is why conversations are so dynamic and relative. With so much potential for change, it is critical to establish a conversational foundation – something that can be built upon mutually to establish a connection. So what lies at the heart of every conversation?

Our brain is designed to detect trust and distrust in our everyday conversations. Through advances in neuroscience, we are now able to take a peek inside the brain as people experience different states. What is incredible are the dramatically different brain landscapes, or ‘brainscapes’ that show up for people who are in states of trust compared to those who are in states of distrust. These states of mind shape our relationships every day, affecting the way we communicate to build trust with others. 

Distrust

Human beings have a need to belong. It is simple to understand: we turn towards those who make us feel safe, important, and good, and we turn away from those who make us feel threatened, minimized, or bad. When an interaction leaves us feeling embarrassed, punished, or judged, the lower-brain activates a series of stress-related chemical baths that flood the body and drive our state of mind. 

If the stressor persists, the body will continue to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet: the more we ruminate about fear, the longer the impact2. Not only does this leave us feeling agitated, exhausted, and even sick, it shuts down the thinking centers of our brain that promote communication, collaboration, and trust of others. What quells, or calms, this triggered state of mind?

Trust – The Caring Effect

Trust is the foundation of healthy relationships. It means that I trust that you will not harm me, and you trust that I will not harm you. Trust is associated with the release of oxytocin, a biochemical that promotes states of bonding, love, and collaboration. 

You do not need to physically touch someone to activate the caring effect3. This is great news for our new socially distant communities! To maintain strong relational bridges, excellent communicators show a concern for others and proactively work to paint a picture of mutual success. For example, showing curiosity for others’ ideas, and sharing healthy input and feedback while affirming efforts energizes them to stay engaged. By exercising Conversational Intelligence, you can open up space for healthy conversations to emerge, while quelling triggers that might stand in the way of successful conversations. Healthy, trust-based communication can be a challenge. However, the benefits of placing importance on the relationship, and not just the task, has a profound impact on the outcome or results you are looking to achieve.  

Here are three ways to promote trust and quell distrust in everyday conversations.  
 
1. Place trust at the center of relationships. Conversations serve as a conduit for establishing trust, which allows for the exchange of influence. When this happens, oxytocin levels increase and the impact allows the participants to have open conversations. In order to build trust, strive to be transparent by sharing the intent behind what you are saying. This clarifies the meaning behind your message and reduces the chance for misinterpretation and climbing the ladder of conclusions. 
 
2. Stay focused and engaged in the conversation.  Be attentive and avoid ‘pretending to listen’. What are the ‘tells’ you have that signal you are disengaging or prematurely ending a conversation? Whether it’s looking at your phone or watch, clicking your laptop, or getting up and walking away from the Zoom meeting, your signals are noticed. They close down conversations, giving others the impression that your time is more valuable than theirs. This leads to a distrust of your intentions. 
 
3. Be a ‘connecting’ listener. Set aside your agenda or purpose for the conversation, at least for a moment, and truly listen. Double-clicking on what you hear them say – for example, asking “What do you mean when you say ____?” – shows that you care enough to want to know more about their thoughts. This simple strategy alone can put an end to distrust, strengthen the trust tie and, as a side benefit, may actually reveal information that you didn’t know!


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