Your success is the product of your conversations.
Your daily avalanche of conversations include the best ones (meaning those with yourself), the one-on-ones, the meetings, the chit chat and your presentations. In this Distraction Economy, each conversation is an opportunity to get clarity, to build a relationship, to collaborate, get buy-in, practice accountability, encourage yourself (and others). It’s not just sharing information, it’s how you share it.
A useful conversation is one that serves a purpose, that doesn’t mean that you never shoot the breeze with folks. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you want more productive conversations and less blah blah blah. You want clarity. You want relevancy. You want people to get to the freaking point in less than 5 minutes.
Here are 3 tools you can use to make conversations useful and interesting.
1. Make it a scene.
About the time a young Dale Carnegie was teaching extroverted communication to people in business, Russian acting coach Constantin Stanislavski faced a crisis in the theater.
At that time, an actor’s job was to portray a certain emotional cliché on the director’s command. There was a catalogue of specific gestures, facial expressions, body language samples and emotions that the actors would learn and perform. Acting literally consisted of strained line readings with overacted emotions. You may have noticed this in low-quality movies and TV shows.
Russian theatre coach, Stanislavski, innovated the craft of acting by developing these two tools:
- The SUPER OBJECTIVE is what your character wants more than anything from life throughout the film or play.
- The SCENE OBJECTIVE is what your character wants more than anything throughout the scene.
Why not apply these to have more fruitful conversations? Think about it like this:
- The CONVERSATION OBJECTIVE is what do you want from this conversation?
- Your SUPER OBJECTIVE is what do you want from this relationship?
You need to correct a report’s behavior. Your CONVERSATION OBJECTIVE is to make him aware of what he is doing wrong, the impact of that behavior on the group (or company) and expectations moving forward.
Your SUPER OBJECTIVE is to develop this employee’s professional potential. So the SUPER OBJECTIVE informs your entire conversation. This forces you to be more thoughtful in how you express what needs to be said.
Action Point 1: Take the time to get clear on these 2 objectives before any significant talk. Your conversation is a scene from this movie called “your life”.
2. Deliver value nudges.
A value nudge indicates the purpose of your topic of conversation. It can be a surprising statistic, a decree from top management or a technology change. The purpose of the value nudge is to keep focus on what is the benefit of what you’re saying to your audience.
I’m talking to someone at an event, I’ve just met her and I want her to know enough about my business so that she remembers my name and a little bit of what I do.
After asking her what she’s excited about these days, I share that I’m excited about a new coaching results measurement tool I’ve come up with. Then I deliver the value nudge…(which is why this tool could have value for her or others).
“Did you know one of the biggest barriers to adapting a coaching culture in a company is the lack of measurement tools? In my experience, I found that asking certain questions before and after coaching someone leads to useful metrics to measure coaching outcomes.
Or…in the example of giving feedback, the value nudge is reminding the person of your SUPER OBJECTIVE, of why this feedback is personally and professionally relevant to the employee.
It’s easy to think this value is obvious. Think about how motivating it is when a spin class instructor reminds you of the fitness benefits of the pain you’re feeling in your legs.
Action Point 2: Depending on the length of your message, prepare some 3 benefits to your audience of what you want to say. These don’t have to be life-changing effects. Mention a small and specific way your feedback or message is relevant to your particular audience.
3. Lean on positive interpretations.
There are two main things to know about positivity at work. One is that the research points to overwhelming benefits of optimism and positivity in a leader’s outlook and communication. A positive interpretation results in greater resiliency and creativity (that was a value nudge, by the way).
Another benefit of developing strong positivity muscles is that the conviction that any setback is temporary avoid the hi-jacking of a person’s decision making process by strongly negative emotions.
A positive interpretation to any situation is not to deny the problem but to acknowledge that the problem can be solved and that the potential is there to make things better than before.
Consider the case of two managers who lose their jobs. Positive Paula believes this is a chance to get some rest and then pursue the possibility of a career change. Negative Neal gets caught in a cycle of binge-watching GoT, ordering pizza and drinking beer. Which of these two is more likely to be immersed in mediocre conversations at work the next day?
Action point 3: The next challenge you face, probably in the next 3 minutes, ask yourself, “What is the best possible outcome that could result from this problem?” After some effort conjuring possible attractive solutions to the situation, look at is again with fresh, positive eyes and see what pops into your field of vision.
If you get an email that seems rude, consider the person was just in too much of a hurry. You can always pick up the phone to clarify things.
You are NOT mediocre. Have conversations that are compelling, concise and relevant. If you do that, you will stand out in a sea of talent as someone who has a point of view worth following.