How can better quality conversations boost business growth?

I recently read the story of Clairol (now part of Unilver) who went from being a dying company into full colour. Due to starting a conversation, and a shift in the quality of conversations that took place, a spirit of collaboration was born which allowed the management to not only transform the company but also the industry.

Conversation – effective enjoyable conversation – is an art. It is also an essential business skill.

This is more true than ever today because of our business lifestyle. The more we use the internet, the more estranged we may become from each other. And the busier we seem to be. Finding time for real conversation slips down the to-do list.

So, the art of communicating clearly while building trust and relationships, has become more important. And the most efficient way to do all three of these at once is not in writing, but in conversation.

Social animals

Humans are social animals – we are designed for conversation.

Face-to-face conversation, which uses all the non-verbal skills, has to be the best quality. Second best is audio conversations where nuance of inflection, pauses and tone add to the meaning of words spoken. Written conversation must make do with the words on the page/screen, aided only by punctuation and an occasional emoticon or drawing.

A simple, powerful message for leaders

My message for leaders is simple: use conversation as a strategy.

To grow your business, improve the quality of your conversations at work. You will build a culture where business, reputation and income flourishes, alongside improved work-life balance.

Perhaps as a leader or manager you’d like your team to be more productive, or you’d like better staff retention, more innovation, higher turnover. Or, you might have a personal aspiration, say, to increase your impact and influence at work so you convince others more easily.

How can you meet these very different objectives?

Through improving the quality of your conversations.

Prized opportunity

In our busy lives real conversations are prized. A face-to-face meeting is often hard to arrange and even phone conversations are shelved if an email or e-message will do instead.

So here are 3 ways to treat the conversation with proper respect:

Tip: Put thought into how to make a positive impact for all concerned. Don’t waste these prized opportunities by being unprepared or lazy in how you put yourself across.

Tip: Be sure to have a real conversation. Make sure there is give as well as take. Good listening is vital. Then react to what you heard – don’t push your own pre-prepared message if it no longer fits.

Tip: Don’t make yourself inaccessible. If you refuse meetings, screening yourself by written communication instead, you will be missing the co-creating opportunity that conversation gives.

Conversation is much more than communication

Yes, conversation is communication, but it is much more than that. Business communication tends to forget listening – it tends to be a one-way speak-a-thon, announcement or series of soundbites.

Conversation, on the other hand, is more friendly. It includes relationship, connection and personality. Also, interaction is at the core. So, think ‘conversation’ and you will make a better quality connection each time.

Even Public Speaking can be seen as conversation: you speak and others listen, then the Q&A. Good speakers have listened first so that they know what concerns and interests the audience.

Leadership through Conversation

How, you might ask, does conversation fit in to leadership? “We don’t have time for chat,” you might say.

Chat and conversation is where great ideas are born. In each of these 4 types of Leadership Conversations, the more truly interactive the conversation, the richer and more productive it will be:

• Leader as Coach in 1;1 conversations: to develop career plans or a project, to appraise, to give feedback, to delegate

• Leader in meetings: group conversations with an agenda, such as Investor Meetings, Board Meetings, Leadership Meetings

• Leader of the Company: conversation with staff, listening to their concerns, sharing information, vision, plans, answering their concerns and questions

• Leader in the Community: Public Speaking, conversations with the public, listening to their concerns and interests, answering questions

How to make Public Speaking interactive

Here are 3 tips:

Tip: Think conversation, not communication. It will remind you that listening plays a part. Find out their concerns and interests before you prepare your talk. Then create one that is relevant.

Tip: When you speak to your audience, be alert to their reactions as if they were speaking to you. Stay open to these reactions. Allow yourself to react. Feel the response in the atmosphere of the room.

Tip: In some contexts you can ask for questions at several points. When you don’t want to do this, stay in listening mode, open to the reactions from your audience. You’ll find you are more at ease – and in tune – with them. You’ll be co-creating the presentation with them, in the moment.
A stuctured process

Under Alison Haill’s leadership, Oxford Professional Consulting provides coaching programmes that are structured, practical and effective, based on her wide experience and insights from Conversational Intelligence®.

Conversational Intelligence® is the cutting-edge approach which uses the findings of neuroscience to improve conversation, ideas and business performance.
Contact Alison Haill to discover how to transform the quality of your workplace conversations so you gain these positive results:

• Understand your team as individuals, so you motivate them effectively

• Give better feedback and delegate successfully so your time is freed up

• Build trust based on a sincere win-win focus so you achieve loyal customer relationships

• Engage innovation and creativity in others so team performance improves

• Grow your own resilience and belief so you lead with increased confidence

• Create a happier team, so you see increased staff retention and reduced sick days.

Alison Haill is Founder of Oxford Professional Consulting, the Oxford specialists in Leadership Communication for businesses and achievement-oriented professionals.

*Taken from “Conversational Intelligence” by Judith Glaser pp 92-99

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