How to Have Good Conversations at Work: 7 Helpful Tips

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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Do you want to become conversationally intelligent? How do you have good conversations in the workplace?

Fostering trusting dialogue is important for any workplace. In Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser covers seven techniques to help you do this.

If you want to learn how to have good conversations, keep reading.

1: Help Employees Answer Five Questions in Every Conversation

To learn how to have good conversations, you must be aware that everyone unconsciously asks themselves five questions about the person they’re talking to at the beginning of every conversation. These questions are related to whether or not they can trust the other person. As a leader, whenever you talk to an employee, be sure that their answers to these five questions indicate a positive attitude toward your organization.

  1. Do I need to protect myself emotionally and how?
  2. Does this person like me, and can I trust them?
  3. How am I a part of this group?
  4. What do I need to learn or acquire to be successful in this moment?
  5. How can I work with others to create and build something?

2: Identify Your Blind Spots

As a leader, you must be aware of and work to resolve your conversational blind spots that prevent the other person from trusting you, writes Glaser. Conversational blind spots are cognitive blocks in the way we see the world and perceive others, which can negatively affect how we interact with them.  

Here are four conversational blind spots:

Blind Spot 1: We tend to believe others feel and think the same way we do. If we aren’t open to the possibility that others think differently, then when others disagree with us about an issue, we’ll try to convince them we’re right. This leads to the other person feeling bullied or strong-armed and prevents them from trusting us. 

Blind Spot 2: We aren’t aware that fear and distrust affect how we react to situations. As we mentioned above, distrust makes you create and reinforce incorrect mental narratives about others. You might thus react to them based on your mental narrative and not based on what they’re actually saying and doing. What’s more, distrust and fear keep you from taking others’ perspectives because you’re on the defensive. You become unable to put yourself into another’s shoes, which makes it hard for them to trust you. 

Blind Spot 3: We’re not aware that our memories of a conversation are subjective. The way we recall a conversation might not be what truly happened, and if we act only based on this subjective reading of a situation, the other person feels they can’t trust us to be open-minded and accepting. 

Blind Spot 4: The listener may misinterpret what the speaker said. Meaning can be lost or misinterpreted between speaker and listener, so both parties must check in at the conclusion of an interaction to ensure they’re on the same page. 

3: Control the Context of a Conversation to Maximize Trust

To encourage trust from the start of a conversation, control the context in which you hold it, says Glaser. She refers to this as priming the other person—and yourself—to be trusting and open. You can prime both individuals and groups for more trusting conversations in either one-on-one meetings or group meetings.

4: Ask Open-Ended Questions

Another way to establish trust is to ask open-ended questions which make the responder feel valued and willing to speak openly, writes Glaser. Closed questions are ones that can be answered with just a “yes” or “no,” or that are really statements disguised as questions, to which the asker is expecting a specific response (“The company should move in this direction, don’t you agree?”). Open-ended questions, in contrast, don’t beg a specific response and can lead to discovery and learning (rather than confirmation of what you already think). They also help you understand the perspectives of others, allowing you to lead more effectively. 

For instance, open-ended questions might be: “How do you feel about this direction for the company? What fears and hope do you have around it? Do you see yourself thriving here in the future?” Such questions encourage the other person to think about their response and to feel they can freely share their thoughts—which increases their trust in you.

5: Explore the Other Person’s Experience to Better Empathize With and Trust Them

In any conversation, you can bolster trust by engaging with and understanding the other person’s thoughts and feelings more fully. Glaser refers to this as “double-clicking,” because, like double-clicking on your computer to open nested files, you dig into a person’s lived experience. For example, you could double-click by asking about the other person’s work background and continuing to ask increasingly specific questions about jobs, companies, and roles they performed. 

When you take the time to understand each other through double-clicking, you become bonded because you begin discussing shared perspectives rather than individual perspectives. This, in turn, fosters trust and lets you work together more effectively.

6: Use Conversational Intelligence to Reestablish Trust

To become an intelligent communicator, you should also learn how to reestablish trust when it’s been lost. Glaser says that if you find yourself or the other person becoming distrustful during a conversation, prevent further alienation by pausing the discussion. This puts a break on your amygdala’s fear reaction and the production of cortisol, so you don’t continue to take actions and draw conclusions from a place of fear and distrust. 

However, if there’s been a more serious, long-term loss of trust, Glaser proposes using the following five steps to reestablish good working relations between people. These steps can be executed directly person-to-person or facilitated by a third party:

1. Be honest: Vocalize your fears to the other person. When you do this, you tell your brain that the person with whom you’re sharing your fears won’t harm you, de-escalating your fear response. It also makes clear to the other person what your fears are so they don’t misunderstand them.

2. Forge a connection: Build a relationship with the other party by connecting with them meaningfully and letting them know you appreciate their qualities. This lets the other person know they can trust you.

3. Take their perspective: Seek to understand how the other person sees the world. What is their version of reality? Be open with the other person, and listen to them carefully. 

4. Define success together: Define what success looks like for both parties rather than merely pursuing what success looks like to you. This creates a baseline of trust because you know you’re all moving toward a common goal. 

5. Reflect on your assumptions: Once you’ve performed the above steps, reflect more broadly about the assumptions you and others made that may have led to this loss of trust and how you can close the gap between assumptions and reality.

7: Build Trust to Facilitate Company Change

You can become more conversationally intelligent specifically in the context of company upheaval by practicing three conversational rituals, contends Glaser. Change can be difficult for employees, but you can make it positive by involving them in the change.  

These three conversationally intelligent rituals are: 

  1. Welcome push-back: Instead of quashing employees’ resistance to change, see resistance as a natural response to change. It’s important that employees be able to question a change before they accept it. 
  2. Create opportunities for employees to discuss: When change happens, people need reassurance that they’ll be OK—both personally and professionally. Creates spaces for people to have those conversations.
  3. Tell the story of the change: To help people understand change, tell a story about it. People can absorb stories more easily than cold, hard facts.
How to Have Good Conversations at Work: 7 Helpful Tips

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  • 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

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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