Building Your Conversational Capacity

I went to an excellent Vistage Chair Group meeting and was treated to the presentation Conversational Capacity by Craig Weber. Craig comes from an organizational design and psychology background and has presented to Vistage groups more than a thousand times. He works with large teams trying to improve their performance under pressure.

Craig asked the question “do really smart people in your company get to use their smarts?” The problem is often they don’t. That reality crystalizes when a group is under pressure.

Craig uses the term “the sweet spot” where one’s position is clearly identified, supported by facts and analysis, and is put to the test by asking for feedback in an open manner. Likewise when considering a divergent idea, seek to understand the basis for their position, facts, and analysis.

Engaging in such a dialogue makes common sense but… emotionally we tend to be driven towards either a “weak” position or a “win” position. Craig suggests that to move from a position of weakness we have to do a better job of identifying our position and providing our supporting facts and analysis. Conversely, if we are win-oriented we can suppress our smart people unless we engage in invitation and inquiry.

Craig brings a unique languaging to the concept of leadership based on his experience. All authors do this, yours truly included. David Bohm, the late quantum physicist, in his treatise On Dialogue said his experience in understanding quantum physics helps him to define dialogue as a safe place for communicating. He said the truth does not emerge from an opinion but only through dialogue. In Good to Great Jim Collins language a similar concept as the humble level 5 leader.

Craig suggests that we keep a “trigger” journal that helps us to gain awareness of when our energy can become too strong.

One thing I love about Vistage meetings is they are built on this belief in Conversational Capacity. We not only get to interact with presenter experts but then have the afternoon devoted to encouraging each other and holding each other accountable…throughout a dialogue.

How can you build the Conversational Capacity at your company?