Leadership In Practice: Conversation

Every motivational Ted Talk worth its salt begins with a story. One that stands out, is business coach David Allen’s at the beginning of his talk ‘The Art of Stress Free Productivity’. He describes how, on a sailing trip, he unexpectedly finds himself in a dramatic, life-threatening situation and, amid the chaos, experiences a zen-like moment of calm. In this vivid description, David Allen employs all the elements of great storytelling.

We revere storytellers for their ability to entertain, while encouraging us to reflect on life and society. In the workplace, leaders can employ the same storytelling skills to be persuasive, influential, build rapport, make important information more memorable or inspire action. But before you create one - be sure of its purpose. Our free webinar explores how storytelling is an important part of the skill of conversation required of a great 21st century leader. 

Communication in the workplace between teams, stakeholders and customers has changed dramatically over the last century; from leaders giving instructions to much more focus on having conversations. Patricia Shaw, in her book ‘Changing Conversations in Organisations’, draws our attention to the role of more informal conversation during coffee breaks, before and after meetings and other ad hoc encounters in our everyday working life. These conversations are critically important to make sense of what is actually happening in organisations.  

Our four top tips for effective conversations:

1.    Ask questions
To be a good leader, engage with your employees, do not simply deliver a set of directions or commands. Your words, tone, gestures and facial expressions should be influenced by what you want to achieve in that conversation. The most effective leaders do not tend to give orders in conversations; they ask lots of questions.

2.    Be an active listener
There is nothing to be gained in asking questions if the answers fall on deaf ears. We could take Benjamin Franklin’s advice “Speak little. Do much”, when listening. In active listening, you are confident to hold a silence to allow others to speak, giving you the opportunity to observe. Active listening is the basis for all effective conversation because it gives you the information you need to make the best response. It involves not just listening to the words being said, but also interpreting the meaning behind the words by paying attention to tone, volume, emphasis, expression and pauses.  

3.    Give feedback to make sure you have understood
Check that what you think you have heard is actually what the person speaking meant to convey. Feeding back involves summarising what you believe to be the substance of a discussion. 

4.    Become fluent in body language
Great leaders are skilled in interpreting non-verbal communication such as facial expression, gestures, posture and eye contact to identify body language that backs up or contradicts what is being said verbally. 

How to develop conversation in practice

Try out our flagship e-learning tool, MyLeadership, which will highlight areas where you might have leadership conversations. Or take our MyLeadership Opportunities assessment to understand where your experience and strengths lie and receive a personalised report including customised suggestions for maximising your leadership opportunities.