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Relentless. Frenetic. Complex. Dynamic. These are just a few of the adjectives one could use to describe the conventional business environment. Innovation, increasingly horizontal structures, economic and social volatility all make for a dynamic business landscape and, in order to keep up and advance, leaders have to continue to develop and practice new skills. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of mastering advanced conversation skills as part of this effort. Well-executed conversations allow leaders to manage tough issues and move their people and organizations forward.

Two Approaches To Advancing Conversation

Conversational Capacity (Craig Weber) and Fierce Conversations (Susan Scott) both offer strategies to help leaders facilitate, and participate in more effective conversations.

Weber defines "conversational capacity" as "the ability to have open, balanced, learning-focused dialogue about tough, heated, adaptive issues." Day-to-day conflict is where the opportunity for learning exists, so long as we have well-developed conversational capacity and put ourselves in the position to hear the perspectives of others.

Here's my question: How do you attain it? How do individuals develop this crucial conversational capacity?

This is where Scott's concepts and teachings of Fierce Conversations come into play. If we buy into the idea that we need to develop our Conversational Capacity, the guidelines of "Fierce Conversations" increase our ability to do so - to find solutions through these high-stakes, emotionally charged discussions.

Scott defines a fierce conversation as "one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real." It is a leader's job "to engineer the types of conversations that produce epiphanies."

A measurement of our conversational capacity - if we could put a number on it - would be our ability to both "engineer" and engage in these dialogues.

Advanced Skills For Advanced Situations

Most people - and most definitely those in positions of leadership - can handle normal, run-of-the-mill exchanges. Where people stumble are the harder conversations, where disagreement, conflict, or challenges to our thinking or beliefs come in to play. In these instances, our degree of conversational capacity will be limited by our understanding.

Both Weber and Scott advocate learning and teaching during these exchanges.

In his essay, "Why Conflict Is So Important," Weber writes about the "candid dialogue and open-minded exposure to the varying personalities, organizations, educations, cultures, and life experiences" of Vistage members. But he adds "[M]ere exposure to difference isn't enough. Our differences only facilitate adaptive work if we have a bias for learning that is greater than our natural defenses to new and conflicting ideas."

Susan Scott calls human connectivity "the next frontier for exponential growth and the only sustainable competitive edge" - definitely something smart leaders should strive to master and leverage.

Making The Connection

Both Conversational Capacity and Fierce Conversations can give you the tools, tips, and inspiration you need to gain that edge. Building one's conversational capacity through fierce conversation is a worthwhile pursuit for every business leader.


Larry Hart

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