Conversational Habits Of Top Leaders
Listen to Episode 36:
Episode 36 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, episode 36, “Conversational Habits Of Top Leaders.”
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here are Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. As always it is such a pleasure to join you today for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. If this is your first time out there listening, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success. So Pam, what’s our topic for today?
Pam Harper: How CEOs and other top leaders can build habits that truly elevate their conversations to the highest level for engaging and creating strong relationships. When executives ask us about ways they can accelerate company transformation and growth, one of our top pieces of advice is to ensure that there’s credible communication going on between individuals, across teams, and throughout the organization. However, we’ve noticed that people have habitual ways they tend to communicate that can profoundly impact the degree of success that they have been doing this.
Scott Harper: Well that’s true.
Pam Harper: That’s why we’re delighted to have our friend Judith E. Glaser back with us as our guest.
Judith is CEO of Benchmark Communications and Chairman and Co-founder of the Creating WE Institute, and is the award-winning author of the bestselling books Creating We and Conversational Intelligence, How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Judith, welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio.
Judith Glaser: It’s great to be back, Pam and Scott. Thank you.
Pam Harper: Now − let’s start talking about this big topic. In your book you state that people often have good intentions and think that they’re fostering great conversations, when they’re not. Why do you say this?
Judith Glaser: It’s really fascinating, but we know that when people are talking, and when they’re talking about things that they want to talk about, that the body has a chemistry that sits behind the scenes telling them what to do, and that chemistry is that what I’m talking about. Let’s say I’m a leader and I’m talking about the vision, and I’m really excited about that vision − my chemistry is pouring out dopamine which is a feel good experience, because it’s all about activating the reward part of our brain. So if I think I’m singing a song of wonderful things for the future of my company, I’m feeling great − and the thing of it is, behind the scenes, I’m making the assumption that everybody who’s listening to me is feeling as good as I am. But they’re often not. Right?
Pam Harper: Right.
Judith Glaser: This is why the good intention is, “let me engage my organization in a wonderful vision for the future,” and that leaders can go on and on and on. In fact, what we study in our company is the patterns of interaction dynamics for successful and unsuccessful people, mostly leaders. We find that when the good intention is to inform people, keep them in the loop, all those sound like wonderful intentions. However, if the conversation is not fostering engagement, if people aren’t allowed to ask questions and dive in and be part of the engagement process, good intentions actually turn into bad experiences, and after a while people stop asking questions.
Scott Harper: You say that people can get stuck in telling and assuming that people are actually listening. If they don’t listen, what happens? You get frustration; you tell them again, and they don’t listen, and you tell them again…
Judith Glaser: Yeah, tell them once. Yeah.
Scott Harper: And, “No, really listen. This is what I really mean.” Rationally we should be able to recognize this. Why do we get stuck sometimes in this way?
Judith Glaser: Yeah, it’s the “tell-sell-yell” syndrome, so the end of it is where you start to really yell at people. Part of it is because human beings sometimes have self-doubt about “is my message getting across? There are many times where we’re in conversations and people don’t kind of get us the first time as we’re growing up − whether it’s a teacher who then grades us that we weren’t successful in writing a paper or communicating − so we have imprints in our experience of failing to be heard or understood. So leaders, when they get at the top and they’re delivering difficult messages to people, or even vision messages that are a little bit abstract or might be new for the first time that they’ve said them − they get seriously concerned about whether people are really hearing, so they’ll say it again.
Then they talk in their own heads. This is when it gets emotional and this is when it gets chemical. They’ll say something, “God, you know, we’re going to have this great intervention, and everybody is going to be involved,” and they go on and on, and, “I want you to take some action,” and they don’t see action from the organization. This could be more than one conversation; it doesn’t have to be one all in the same stream.
But then they say like, “I was really clear, wasn’t I? Well, let me try it again,” so they try it again, this time maybe questioning either themselves or the other people. That’s our inner humanness, the algorithms of each person’s feeling of success and failure. They’re not going to stop if they’re a CEO or somebody senior − they’re just going to keep pushing the message out. Then if they don’t land the message then they start, “You stupid idiot” − the “YSI” syndrome.
Pam Harper: So we get insecure, or there are other things going on, and that leads to something else you’re talking about, having to do with positional dynamics. Why exactly does this dynamic happen then?
Judith Glaser: Positional dynamics are what I call level two conversations, positional conversations. The first level is telling people what to do and getting stuck in that; the second one is let’s say now you’ve decided to be a little bit stronger. You’re not telling them information but you want to be positional or advocate your point of view, and you may even inquire into did they get it. This is in a sense a level up − much, much more engagement − you think you’re doing the right thing, and boy have we been taught in school and negotiation programs that you advocate and then you inquire. That’s the dynamic of positional. But then sometimes even with the extra pressure of “I’m your boss” in the background or “We should be doing this,” sometimes the leader gets stuck and not really listening.
Again, it’s that need; the ego need starts to accelerate at this point and people really want to be the boss. If that’s their job, then they will get more positional and start to use things like threats and rewards to get people to get on board, which also has a whole other life of itself. We get stuck in this. We get stuck in positional. It catches us because again it feels good to us. We feel powerful so we get dopamine, which gets us excited. We feel reward. We get serotonin which activates us and makes us even feel more powerful. Then we get stuck in that because that chemistry feels better to us than [the stress hormone] cortisol.
But this is what’s so weird about this particular level − it’s really fueled by the fear that people won’t listen. There is a lot of cortisol in the background stirring us up into the question of why does this happen, and why can’t we get out of it, why do we get stuck in it? Again, it’s that cortisol makes us fight for our point of view, so when we get stuck in this and people aren’t listening, with the cortisol added to it we can’t let go of the fight… Aren’t human beings fascinating?
Pam Harper: Fascinating and complex. We’re also conditioned. I mean, a lot of times I hear, “Why did you say that?” “Because I said so.” “Well who are you?” “Well, I’m your mother, your father, your manager, your whoever it is.” It’s such a complex thing, and you’ve really put this into some very interesting frameworks.
Judith Glaser: Yeah, and there is a third level which I think fleshes out the fullness of what conversations need to be all about. In this one there’s a mindfulness that there are two people talking. It’s not driven by my ego alone. It’s driven by my need to connect with another person and build harmony in some way. Harmony doesn’t mean giving up my beliefs. It means connecting, navigating, and growing with that person. That’s something that we often miss because the ego drives us to the other two forms or levels of conversation and we get stuck there.
I’d love to have a chance to talk about level three, because it’s a different type of listening, it’s a different type of speaking, it’s a different type of influence, and it’s one that we all can do regardless of how old we are, believe it or not. We all have this capability. We just need to learn what it is so that we can learn to step into it and choose it for the kinds of situations that are most appropriate for it.
Scott Harper: I imagine if it’s working, it has its own chemistry where we really feel in harmony, and that − when that’s happened to me, that feels really good.
Judith Glaser: Yeah. Harmony without giving up your perspective is really beautiful.
Pam Harper: Well, we’re going to go into that in much more depth. First, though, we’re going to take a break, and when we come back we’ll talk more with Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Creating We about the benefits of building habits that elevate our conversational intelligence. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at www.businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to the next level of innovation and growth. And if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, select episode 36, and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. This will help extend our reach to all of the people who can benefit from this series.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Creating We about building strong habits for powerful and effective conversations. Judith, how can people find out more about you and Creating We?
Judith Glaser: We have a website − www.creatingwe.com. We also have another site. It features our book “Conversational Intelligence” which is www.conversationalintelligence.com.
Pam Harper: You can access this by visiting growthignitersradio.com, Episode36. Now we were talking in the first segment about the fact that there are these different levels of conversation − and there are really three, you said. Can you tell us more about how this allows us to expand what’s possible in terms of engaging with others?
Judith Glaser: Yeah, when we’re meeting other people − when we’re meeting them for the first time − the first level is about connecting with another person, and there are certain conversational rituals that human beings go through when they’re getting to know somebody else. If you think about going to a party, you share information, you exchange things about you, about what’s going on in the world. That’s natural and helpful because we’re reading another person not just through what they say but through the 97% of what else is happening as we engage with another human being. We start to feel a sense of trust when we first connect with someone. We can read trust in 0.07 seconds. That’s how quickly it happens.
Pam Harper: It’s a phenomenal statistic.
Judith Glaser: It’s outstandingly wild. I went through science books to find that, so I’m not making it up − but that’s what’s going on. There are energy fields that connect human beings. It’s like a dog sniffing somebody out. That’s an important level. A lot of times we don’t do that well and we use it for only one side of the dynamic, which is the tell part. “I’m going to tell you something but I don’t ask you very much.” That’s part of what we feel − is that those two dynamics are running in parallel, and if I’m doing too much talking and I’m not asking and I don’t really care about you then already the message goes to you that you have to be a little bit careful about this, person because they may be very self-centric. Level one is important, and we can’t jump over it; it gives us a reading, if you will, on a person.
Level two is when you get into conversations where there are points of view and positions, and we either listen to each other or we don’t. Positional becomes where we actually have a very strong point of view and our listening goes down to listening in a very particular way. When we get positional we listen to hear where we can reinforce our influence or bring someone to our point of view, which is a very different type of listening than what happens in level three − which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Positional again is important because in business, in life, anywhere we interact with people and we have to make decisions, we have to take positions. I don’t say to people “don’t take positions.” I say do. However, do it with the spirit of being generous to listen to another person and really inviting more time to listen to them than spending the time platforming what you have to say.
Scott Harper: Or planning what you’re going to say next.
Judith Glaser: Totally − exactly right, exactly right. By the way, the brain drops out as we’re listening to other people, it drops out to connect to what we’re thinking. Every 12 to 18 seconds we’re doing an internal check on what I just heard, how it relates to what I need to say, and so forth. So that dynamic is also at play. That’s two of the levels so far − both needed. This one helps us navigate with people. The first one is connecting; the next is navigating.
And the last one is where we actually integrate our being. We don’t even have words yet to describe what happens in level three, but it’s where I use the word “co-create,” where we open the space to grow with another person, where we enable a place in our brain to map them − the wholeness of who they are. Now that may sound a little spiritual, but it’s really not; it’s when we take in another person and are not judging but we listen to connect, we ask questions for which we don’t have answers, as opposed to leading questions. We start to send messages to the other person that they can trust us. Our mirror neurons open up in our brain which are how we actually mirror another person’s psyche. It’s amazing the research that’s happening now on what we pick up in terms of the neural networks that other people share with each other when we’re in this place of level three.
This is when we not only feel empathy, but we can hold a view of the world together like it’s a universal picture of the world. We actually have pictures of how people are connecting their energetic fields. That’s when you say, “Wow, I really get you,” or, “I totally see what you’re all about, or what you’re thinking.” At that point the kind of conversations − the decisions − everything we make is in a different level with a different chemical, with a different imprint, and it actually gives us a different sense of what the world is all about, or for that matter what our conversation is all about. Does that make sense?
Scott Harper: Wow. It does make sense, and what I’m hearing, Judith, that is really sinking in even more today, is that all three of these levels of conversation are important in really connecting and moving along and getting to the highest level. It’s not like one is inferior to two, and the positional is inferior to three. We have to go through that, and they have to balance and all come in at the right time, and then we can get to that really cohesive unifying conversation where everybody is clicking away and we’re feeding each other. In the third section I think we’re going to talk about how we can build the habits to really make that happen most effectively.
Pam Harper: Yes. In the meantime, can you tell us a story then about a CEO who moved through these different levels − the level one, to level two to level three, and the impact that it had on a company’s transformation and growth?
Judith Glaser: This is really fascinating. This was actually someone who reported directly to the CEO. I was asked by the CEO to go into a meeting with him and to be part of the firing of this guy. They wanted to fire him because he was so big on level one and level two. That’s not what they called it back then, because I didn’t have the terminology until a couple of years ago, but they knew that he was a really what they called obnoxious with people, especially customers. When he drank he was always in level two and being really tough on people. Anyway, I asked the CEO to let me coach him and I did − and for the first conversation I had with him he spoke for 19 minutes 26 seconds without letting me in − and I tried many times to be part of the conversation. He was really stuck in level one, and maybe level two as well.
That phone call − the 19 minute 26 second phone call − was my platform to start a conversation with him that was life changing, as he said later as we got to know each other better. What happened is I reflected back my experience of being on the other end of that conversation, and nobody had had the courage to do that with him. I asked him what he was thinking when he kept rolling − did he hear me? I wanted to check into his attention and what he was paying attention to − all the things that we were talking about in the first segment − and I finally got an inkling of a glimmer somewhere in him that perhaps he wasn’t always right and that other people were always wrong, that there might be something else for us to discuss.
By the third week we talked more about intention and impact and how he showed up, and his intentions, and could he manage the ego, and things like that − just all around these three levels. He told me he was sitting in a meeting watching someone talk as though it was him before he had the insight that he had been missing something in conversations, and he said he felt so embarrassed to see somebody mirror his old behaviors. That chemical awareness, which I now call the third eye, was what actually created the transformation for him. It was the beginning of his self-awareness that what he was doing needed to be done in a completely different fashion for him to get along with people.
The end result was he stayed with the company and produced millions of dollars of business. People couldn’t believe it, it was a lesson for everybody, because they totally − many of the people that reported to him and worked with him said, “This guy you’re not going to change. I know you’re good, but you’re not going to change this guy.” To this day − to tell you how hardwired it is − he called me six months ago to work with his son for the same reasons, that sense of being stuck in level two.
Pam Harper: That goes back to the habits that we have.
Judith Glaser: That’s the story…
Pam Harper: Some of them are … Right, some of them stay with us, and they’re harder to shake. It sounds like a real turning point when you were able to help him to see exactly what the impact was on other people. That’s amazing story.
We’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back we’ll talk more with Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Creating We, about actionable steps you can take to build habits of high conversational intelligence. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: So Pam − can you tell our listeners why clients engage us to speak at events, conferences, and company off-sites?
Pam Harper: Well, they’re seeking new insights for dramatically accelerating company growth. They’re also seeking new leadership insights about themselves, their teams, and their organizations so they can make bold new decisions about strategy and implementation. It’s been especially rewarding to find that some of our company off-sites have resulted in breakthrough decisions that have generated as much as 10-fold growth over five years.
Scott Harper: So contact us today at www.businessadvance.com to arrange for a brief call to discuss your needs and options for helping you achieve your most important goals.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments Scott and I have been talking with Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Creating We, about building strong habits for powerful and effective conversations. Judith, how can people find out more about you and Creating We?
Judith Glaser: We have a website that they can go to which is www.creatingwe.com, and also our exciting new book Conversational Intelligence has its own website as well: www.conversationalintelligence.com.
Pam Harper: You can access all of this by visiting www.growthignitersradio.com Episode 36. Now let’s get back to our conversation here. We’ve been talking about what conversational intelligence is, with a wonderful success story that is very inspiring. Getting it back to what somebody can do as soon as they’re done listening today − what would be some advice you could give for leaders who want to bring their conversational habits up to the highest level?
Judith Glaser: It’s really, really a fascinating story, and for me it starts with one thing. There is a giving tree of goodness that comes back when human beings decide to listen to connect to each other. Well it may sound like a simple thing, but I’ve had leaders tell me that by changing their form of listening from judging − trying to figure out where they fit in, realizing that they’re monologuing − to listening to connect has been the most powerful shift for people. Again, I call it a giving tree because it gives so much back to you as you engage with people and find that their chemistry shifts, therefore the way they see you shifts, therefore what they say to you shifts. It’s just a positive spiral.
Pam Harper: I think it’s interesting what you’re saying about listening to connect, because even as we’ve been sitting here talking − and we’re in different parts of the country here − I’m listening to connect in a different way, and it’s very interesting. It does shift the attention.
Judith Glaser: I’m so glad to hear that, Pam. There’s something about actually instructing your brain which way to listen that clears it out for some reason; it down-regulates the cortisol that may be hanging out. There’s a lot of new research about how we clear out brain of debris, and cortisol hanging ou,t which is nonfunctional for the moment, hangs out long. That’s what we know; it has a 26-hour shelf life. So by focusing on listening to connect, we actually are activating the garbage disposal in our brain to pass through the cortisol and to enable room for oxytocin to be born.
Pam Harper: And it’s a conscious decision; I mean, what I had to do is say “I’m going to listen in a very different way,” and so that’s the first thing. I’m experimenting with doing this as we go.
Judith Glaser: The rest is taht you need to learn to team up with your brain. That means that one step is to say I intentionally want to do something. Then you have to know that you have what’s called the reticular activating system, which is part of the lower brain, that is what focuses our attention to different things. So instead of just doing that one thing, you also then invite your prefrontal cortex to connect with the reticular activating system. They are going to have a conversation: “so what shall I focus my attention on and how should I focus it?” So it becomes a qualitative conversation that you are now orchestrating in your own brain to bring the symphony of different parts of the brain together to act on your behalf in a new way.
Pam Harper: So when I’m doing this − I’m having a little trouble here − can you guide me a little bit? So I made the decision that I want to connect in a new way − now, how am I partnering with my brain differently?
Judith Glaser: By voicing that this is your intention, and by knowing that you have a part of your brain that actually focuses your attention, so you hold your attention. People that, for example, have a lot of ADD can’t hold attention on one thing. So you just speak to your brain about “let me stay focused, let me extend the focus.” It’s like when you’re learning how to run for a race and you can do a mile, and then you can do three miles. It’s talking to that part of your brain and saying, “a little more space, like literally give it, let’s give it a little bit more space, hang in there a little bit longer,” and you’re actually stretching your capacity to listen and take in much more information about the person that you’re communicating with.
Pam Harper: Right; it feels a little bit like letting go in a sense, too, when you’re doing that − because you can’t have “what’s next?” going on in your brain.
Judith Glaser: Yeah, exactly right.
Pam Harper: So what’s another point Judith?
Judith Glaser: It’s asking questions for which you have no answers. These aren’t questions like what color is your favorite dress. Those are questions for which you have no answer, but it’s very, it’s transactional type of questions. It doesn’t involve really exploring another person’s being.
But more like when you ask questions like, “What were you thinking about when I said this. I saw something shift on your face.” Or, “I know that we talked about this once before, but it looks like you have a different point of view now. Share that with me.” So that it’s an inquisitiveness about how people are processing the world around them, or questions where you can help another person think about something they’d never thought about before − so it’s that generous attention to someone else with questions that aren’t transactional or aren’t positional. Like a positional question might be, “You’re really agreeing with what I’m saying, don’t you?” Well, yeah, it has a question mark at the end of the sentence, but nothing else in common with a question like what we’re talking about. It’s learning how to develop an appreciation for the types of questions that build better level three conversations the next time and the next time and the next time.
Scott Harper: That goes far beyond a yes/no.
Judith Glaser: Oh my goodness, yeah. If you were to ask somebody − put a person in the middle of a map, put their name there − and then say, “What are the things that you want to know about this person,” and see their first round of ideas about what they’d like to learn about somebody else − a lot of people don’t think that way about other people. They think about how they might use another person in their life, but yeah, not have a lot of curiosities about the other person. We’re just beginning to tap into the difference between the questions that unite people and help them become part of a sharing of a new vision for reality. Those questions are very different than the ones that are much more inquisitive that are I centric in nature.
Pam Harper: That sounds like a topic for a whole another episode, doesn’t it?
Judith Glaser: Yeah.
Pam Harper: See, see − I’m very curious. I have to say though that everything you’re talking about is so important. But habits − like any old habits, new conversational habits take a while to develop. I mean, how patient do we need to be − and I know that’s a leading question − but as you’re developing this?
Judith Glaser: No, it’s a good question.
Scott Harper: Or, how do we develop the patience?
Judith Glaser: Yeah, it’s a good question. I’ll tell you the most exciting way. I have a guy that I wasn’t making much headway with, and we started what was called “the three second pause.” That was when he would talk to people, he was very bad at asking questions and very bad at listening, but he was very good at directing people what to do and getting very frustrated when people didn’t respond to what he wanted them to. I had him practice the three second pause, where he’d wait and ask a question − learn how to ask a question first of all, and then wait, and give the person time to respond instead of talking over that person.
He said it was amazing. Again, that one thing created the insight that’s behind conversational intelligence − that if you show up differently with another person, they will likely show up differently with you. If you repeat the same patterns they will repeat the same patterns. So by giving his wife − which is where he said he had the biggest response − three seconds so she could answer him and be part of the conversation in a deeper more meaningful way, she said “Tell Judith that you saved our marriage,” and that’s how important that one action was.
Scott Harper: That’s amazing.
Pam Harper: That is. Judith, this has been amazing, as always. Do you have any final thoughts you want to leave our listeners with today on this topic of building strong conversational habits?
Judith Glaser: Be an experimenter. We have a dashboard, a conversational dashboard that says that we can hang out and resist and just do what we want to do and say what we want to say and not care very much about how it lands − that’s the far end. Then that causes us to go into protect behavior and cortisol spews, and it’s not very good and healthy. But heading over to the right side is where we find co-creation. It lives in the very far right, and to get there we have to pass through a gate, and that gate is being an experimenter, or a mentor of an experiment.
My wish for people that are listening is that they will take something in their life − a relationship where they want to enhance and elevate it − and practice listening to connect and asking questions for which you don’t have answer, and keeping a journal, and see what kind of things change, because those people that invest in these experiments not only become greater leaders, but they can share their wisdom that comes with this in beautiful ways with other people and actually start a catalytic change in their teams and in their organizations.
Pam Harper: Good words to live by. Judith, thank you so much again for being our guest on Growth Igniters Radio.
Judith Glaser: My pleasure.
Scott Harper: Thanks Judith, and thanks out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes, or open a conversation with us, go to www.growthignitersradio.com and select episode 36.
Pam Harper: Until next time this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success,s and leaving you with this question to think about and discuss with your leadership team:
Scott Harper: So what can we start doing today to become more aware of and improve our conversational habits?