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Weekly 3: Have better conversations

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Summary: Have better conversations with yourself. Have better conversations with your employees (and
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

September 2 · Issue #50 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Have better conversations with yourself. Have better conversations with your employees (and manager). Have better conversations with strangers. (~7 min read)

#1. Ask yourself questions, and use the answers to increase your performance.
We talk to ourselves all the time, and the quality of our self-talk can have a significant impact on our performance.
As author Dan Pink writes in his book To Sell is Human, most of that self-talk is declarative and focuses on explaining what is or will be. This is true whether the self-talk is positive (e.g., I’ve got this) or negative (e.g., I’ve never been good at math).
But as Pink points out, your self-talk will be more effective if you frame it as a question (e.g., Can I do this?).
There are 2 reasons for this:
1. By their nature, questions elicit answers and it’s in those answers that you’ll find strategies for addressing the challenge you’re facing.
2. Interrogative self-talk helps to uncover your reasons for doing something, and reminds you that many of those reasons come from within; declarative self-talk risks overlooking your intrinsic motivations.
Imagine that you’re preparing to pitch an idea at an important upcoming meeting at work. You can tell yourself: I’m strong and I’m going to do a great job. This will probably give you a brief emotional boost.
But a better approach would be to ask yourself: Can I make a great pitch?
Your responses could be about your past experience (e.g., I’ve made 10 similar pitches in the past year); your preparation (e.g., I know all the material and have several examples to provide); and even specific tactics (e.g., I spoke too quickly during the last pitch, so this time I’ll take a breath before responding).
#2. Manage your team more effectively through one-on-one conversations.
Author and entrepreneur Kim Scott writes in her book Radical Candor that the purpose of one-on-one conversations with your direct reports is “to listen and clarify – to understand what direction each person working for you is headed in and what’s blocking them.”
She offers the below 6 guidelines to make sure you and each of your direct reports are getting the most out of these conversations:
1. Your Mindset
To get more out of the one-on-one session, stop viewing it as a meeting, and instead treat it as if you were having coffee or lunch with someone you want to get to know better.
2. Frequency
Scott tries to meet with each of her direct reports for 50 minutes every week.
But this isn’t possible for many managers in large organizations. In those cases, she recommends the following: if you have 10 direct reports, meet with each of them 25 minutes every week; if you have 20 direct reports, aim for 25 minutes every other week.
3. Actually show up
She points out that this is probably the most important advice for your one-on-one conversations: barring an emergency, do not cancel these meetings.
4. Employees set the agenda
Your direct reports should own and set the agenda for each conversation; your role is to establish expectations (e.g., whether the agenda is sent in advance, whether it’s structured).
5. Effective follow-up questions
Ask each of your direct reports the below questions to help “identify the gaps between what people are doing, what they think they ought to be doing, and what they want to be doing.”
  • How can I help?
  • What are you working on that you don’t want to work on?
  • What are you not working on that you want to work on?
  • What can I do or stop doing that would make this easier?
  • How do you feel about the priorities of the teams you’re dependent on?
6. Encourage new ideas
The one-on-one conversation should be a safe context to explore new ideas “before they are submitted to the rough-and-tumble of debate.”
Here are some questions to help nurture new ideas:
  • What do you need to develop this idea further so that it’s ready to be discussed with the broader team? How can I help you?
  • I think you’re onto something, but it’s still not clear to me. Can you try explaining it again?
  • I understand what you mean, but I don’t think others will. How can you explain it so it will be easier for them to understand?
Are you failing as a boss?
For Scott, one-on-one conversations can also serve as a test to find out if you’re failing as a manager. Here are the signs to look for:
  • Your direct reports cancel the one-on-one sessions
  • The conversation consists only of updates that could have been emailed
  • You hear only good news
  • You don’t receive any criticism
  • There’s no agenda
#3. Conversations with strangers don't have to be awkward.
In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, author Scott Adams writes that when you’re approaching a conversation with a stranger, it’s helpful to keep in mind that they’re probably feeling just as awkward as you are.
Like you, they want to talk about something interesting and sound knowledgeable: “Your job is to make that easy.”
Bad conversationalists spend most of the time bragging, complaining, or being overly focused on exchanging information.
Adams suggests the following 5 tips for being a good conversationalist:
1. Ask questions: People love talking about themselves. Asking strangers basic personal questions makes them happy, relieves the stress of awkward silence, and gets the conversation moving.
Here are some examples:
  • What’s your name?
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you have a family?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • Do you have hobbies?
  • Do you have any travel plans?
2. Look for mutual interests: Listen for something that you have in common with them, or a topic that interests you enough to pursue it.
3. Don’t dominate the conversation: Nobody likes this; let others talk.
4. Things to avoid: Bragging, complaining, and sad stories.
5. Aim to make the other person feel good: As Adams points out, if you follow this one guideline, most of the other benefits of conversation will fall into place.
Quote of the Week
“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.”
- Poet David Whyte in his essay 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away
Idea Journal
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