This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Conversational Intelligence" by Judith E. Glaser. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser about? What are the main takeaways of the book?
In Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser argues that your struggle to connect with certain co-workers or your team may be because of a lack of conversational intelligence. This means that you don’t understand how important conversations are at work, and how to infuse conversations with trust.
Read below for a brief overview of Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser.
Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser
In Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser argues that your success in life and at work depends on your ability to hold a high-quality, trusting conversation—in other words, on your conversational intelligence. Being conversationally intelligent means you understand how important conversations are to human development and connection, why trust is a critical piece of a good conversation, and how you can foster trust with your conversation partner. Glaser contends that conversational intelligence is especially important in the workplace, as it can eliminate distrust between leaders and employees that stymies growth and understanding, thus allowing both companies and employees to thrive.
We’ll first discuss the importance of conversations in general and the qualities that make a conversation “good.” Then, we’ll explore some tactics you can use to become more conversationally intelligent.
Judith Glaser was an organizational anthropologist who founded and chaired The CreatingWE Institute, which aims to help leaders harness the power of conversation to improve their businesses. Her research spans many fields, including linguistics, neuroscience, and human behavior and development, and she has worked with many high-profile companies. She wrote seven books, including Creating WE and The DNA of Leadership, and she writes for and coaches business leaders who seek to optimize their understanding of their organizations and improve their overall effectiveness.
The Importance of Good Conversations to Human Connection
Before we can explain what conversational intelligence is, we need to discuss the importance of conversations and the qualities that define a good conversation according to Glaser.
Glaser claims that good conversations aren’t just about sharing information: They’re a complex form of social interaction that influences how we see the world, how we act in it, and how we come across to others. They have the potential to change how we relate to others and give us the opportunity to practice empathy toward them.
Glaser feels that all success in life and work depends upon your ability to hold a good conversation. However, most leaders don’t understand how critical strong conversations are to building healthy, productive relationships at work and how detrimental poor conversations are to those relationships. Often, leaders only initiate poor conversations, which stymies the company’s growth.
Defining Conversational Intelligence
Conversational intelligence is essentially the ability to orchestrate a good, effective conversation that fosters trust and respect based on your understanding of how the human mind works.
So what is a good conversation? According to Glaser, a high-quality conversation is one in which you build a dialogue with others, innovate together, let ideas change and evolve, and focus on your community, rather than on yourself. In short, in a good conversation, you don’t cling to your own ideas or try to be right, but instead open yourself to changing from the input of others so that you can come to a solution together.
As a leader, you want most conversations in your workplace to be such high-quality conversations because they’re the most productive and lead to the best outcomes and higher employee happiness.
For instance, as a conversationally intelligent leader, you might facilitate a successful mediation between two employees because you understand what each person needs from the interaction to be able to rebuild trust in the other. Conversely, if you’re not a conversationally intelligent leader, you might resort to unsuccessful mediation tactics like forcing employees to apologize to each other or list their complaints about the other.
Glaser contrasts good conversations with other types of conversations in which you simply seek to exchange factual information (to set up the time and date of a meeting, for instance) or present a position and try to move the other person to take that position (for instance, if you want your colleague to agree with you on the format of your presentation). These styles aren’t inherently bad and are often necessary. They simply aren’t suited to important, high-level workplace conversations.
Trust is the Foundation of a Good Conversation
Glaser writes that high-quality conversations are built upon a foundation of trust. Trust is the sense that you can express your true thoughts and feelings to the other person and that they will understand and respect these. If other people don’t trust you as a leader, your conversations will never be productive and you’ll never be able to create a collaborative, functional working environment.
How to Become Conversationally Intelligent
Now that you know what is important for a good conversation, here’s how to become more conversationally intelligent and foster more trusting dialogue in the workplace. There are seven techniques that Glaser recommends can help you do this:
- Help employees answer five questions in every conversation
- Identify your blind spots
- Control the context of the conversation to maximize trust
- Ask open-ended questions
- Explore the other person’s experience to better empathize with and trust them
- Use conversational intelligence to reestablish trust
- Build trust to facilitate company change
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Here's what you'll find in our full Conversational Intelligence summary:
- The importance of conversations to human growth and success
- How to deploy conversational intelligence and avoid dialogue-killing distrust
- The five steps to regain trust if you've lost it