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“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations!”                                                                                                                                           Judith E. Glaser

Do you get frustrated because your staff “just don’t get it”?

You’ve told them over and over what you want and yet they still don’t deliver to your expectations and standards.

In “But I’ve already told him….”   we explored how you might engage differently with your colleagues by getting to know more about what motivates them and what is important to them in their roles and projects.

The advancement of Neuroscience and the understanding of how our brains work also provide several clues about how we can have more effective communications.

Judith E. Glaser explains that when we are fearful cortisol, a neurotransmitter, sends signals to our brain. If we are especially fearful we shut down. We go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode and we no longer access the parts of our brain that regulate emotions and strategic thinking.

Some examples of when our bodies create cortisol are when we feel:

  • we don’t belong (are an outsider)
  • we don’t feel safe (uncertainty)
  • we are being judged
  • our contributions are not valued
  • we don’t trust the speaker/environment

 Our bodies also create chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin that allow our brains to operate at an “executive” rather than “primitive” level.

Glaser describes 3 Levels of Conversation that impact trust and the chemicals in our brain and hence how open we are to listen, to engage, to share responsibility and to be creative.

Level I is Transactional and if overused results in the “Tell-Sell-Yell Syndrome”. If our conversations tend to be mostly at this level, we tell more than ask and our colleagues can feel resentful and that they have to comply with our instructions.

Level II is Positional. Leaders who overuse this tend to ask questions to confirm their own positions or perspectives. They are “Addicted to Being Right”.

Level III is Transformational. At this level leaders, explore different perspectives and ask questions with deep curiosity. The downside of excessive use of this level of conversation is “All Talk and No Action.”

There is a place for each Level of Conversation. The skill of great leaders and business owners is to be flexible and discern when it is appropriate to have each Level of Conversation.

Questions for reflection:

What is your intention when you ask questions; to confirm what you already know or to create new possibilities?

Do you second-guess the answer rather than really listen to what your employees have to say?

How do you cultivate curiosity and openness amongst your team members?

Do you create environments where your colleagues feel safe to speak up?

As the leader do you set the tone by allowing people to experiment, make mistakes and create better products and services through iteration?

What could you do differently to create a workplace of trust and belonging?


Judith E. Glaser, 2014, Conversational Intelligence. US: Bibliomotion

David Rock & Christine Cox,  SCARF® in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others

Otto Sharmer, 2012, Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. US: ReadHowYouWantLtd

Photo Source: Courtesy of Digital Willow


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