Remarkable conversations are those that people can’t stop talking about. We remember the clarity, ease and the great outcomes that come about. Often those people we have the most inspiring conversations with are also, unsurprisingly, the remarkable leaders – of people, of projects or ideas.
We all know someone who is brilliant at communicating. At a dinner party, their profound input may silence all diners. At the work table, somehow their contribution seems to be worth more. So, what are some of the faux pas that prevent the less impressive communicators from doing it well?
After 20 years of working with people and leaders, this is where I too often see people limit themselves, their relationships and the outcomes they are looking to achieve.
1. Having ‘yoursations,’ not conversations
One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is not your advice, but your undivided attention. To listen – really listen. The goal is to expand the conversation, not to narrow it.
A good conversation is like a tennis rally – back and forth. For communicators taking up more of the airtime in a conversation, it is time to learn that these are known as ‘yoursations.’ Yoursationalists could practically have these discussions without the other person present.
2. Making little effort to search for the ‘real truth’
Coming to a conversation or business decision thinking you have all the facts is as pointless as going to relationship counselling on your own. When you’re the only one contributing, or are only prepared to listen to your side of the facts, you are more likely to reach flawed outcomes as a result. After all, you’re only focusing on number one rather than considering all the factors and opinions surrounding you. It is a combination of what you know plus what they know that leads to great decision-making, remarkable outcomes and deepened relationship-building.
3. Having a need to be right
When your desire to win the conversation or need to be right dominates the agenda, then you are likely to steer the conversation in the way you need with no real regard for the damage along the way. If you are not prepared to be honest with yourself then how can you expect others to be honest with you? Being right becomes a lonely existence in which very few people trust you and even fewer want to work with you.
4. Not placing enough value on making others feel ‘safe’
Maintaining safety in a conversation is the difference between an outcome and an outbreak. When both parties feel safe enough to be honest with each other is when you reach the best outcomes and preserve – or in some cases restore – great working relationships. When we feel stressed or unsafe in a conversation, physically or emotionally, we have a stress reaction and show fight-orflight behaviours. This leads to an unhealthy exchange that gets worse rather than better.
5. Neglecting to highlight the real issue
Most people don’t feel confident enough to go straight to the heart of the problem. As a compromise, they sugarcoat it or walk around it in the hope that the other person will do the heavy lifting and see the truth hidden underneath. This could be because we have not developed the courage or the right interpersonal skills to discuss the real issue. Or sometimes we interpret the issue incorrectly.
6. Letting the ‘board of directors’ in our head do the thinking
We all have a view of the world based on our upbringing, culture, faith, community, age, etc. This then forms how we perceive information, people and circumstances. These lenses, or boards of directors [BODs], skew how we see things. The BODs tell us that our interpretation of life, people and situations is the right one. But what if they are wrong? They often are. These BODs in our head dramatically influence how we approach conversations before, in the moment and after the fact. They take away our objective thinking and often steer us away from ideal outcomes.
7. Taking others at face value
Because of our internal board of directors, we often decide whether someone is right or wrong based on our own perceptions. We look at someone’s words and behaviours and judge them. We only see what they say, what they do and how they look. But this is not who they are. This is often only a small percentage of what’s going on for them. We don’t make the time to consider this.
8. Leading with opinions and feelings, not just the facts
Often we find it difficult to decipher the difference between the facts and our own opinions and feelings. So we lead with our feelings and opinions in a conversation and wonder why things go wrong. Therefore, it’s easy to understand that when we open conversations with our ‘facts,’ it’s logical that the other person is not going to effectively take the new information on board.
9. Using honesty as an excuse to verbally assassinate
Those four words: “I’m just being honest.” They seem to give some people permission to say precisely what they think. When we practice this type of honesty, not only will we see our trust and respect bank being depleted, but also the ‘discretionary effort’ bank, too – regardless of whether we are friends or work colleagues. It will seem as if we don’t want to go the extra distance for these people anymore. They have hurt us. It’s our own moral compass that we need to take ownership of.
10. Not knowing how to self-manage in the moment
Are you a lover or a fighter? Do you run and hide or always have to have the last word? Either way, knowing how you react puts you a step ahead when it comes to self-management in a loaded conversation. Most people don’t recognize their reactions until it’s too late. Alternatively, if they do, many have not yet developed a ‘toolkit’ to be able to self-manage in the moment. If conversation is the relationship, then how we manage ourselves during that interaction is everything.
While the above 10 are the most common blocks to creating outstanding communication, they are not mountains to climb. The good news is that people can learn the skills and self-awareness to create outstanding relationships and become the people that others want to follow. I have seen it happen, and it creates a shift in cultures that is tangible.
Georgia Murch is an expert in teaching individuals how to have tough conversations and create feedback cultures in organizations. She is the author of Fixing Feedback and a highly engaging speaker. For more information, visit www.georgiamurch.com or email