The Conversational Spectrum

The Conversational Spectrum

Conversations are part of our everyday interactions. The quality of the conversations will dictate the quality of the output or result as well as the quality of the relationship. The words we use, how we listen, the questions we ask can create connection or disconnection in our relationships and subsequent impact on outcomes. This applies whether it be a strategic planning session, a conversation with a potential client, a 1:1 session with a staff member or any interaction we have.

Conversations happen at multiple levels. Each level has a place in our conversations. What is important to keep in mind is that each level will have an impact on how we and the others respond at a neurochemical level (do we feel threatened or do we feel safe and can trust the other person?) and that it is possible to overuse a level at the detriment of the outcome or the relationship. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s consider conversations at 3 levels.

Level 1 conversations are Transactional. They are a Tell and Ask interaction. At this level people are exchanging information, updates, and facts that help us align our realities or confirm we are on the same page. They are about defining what we know and focused more on what we need to get from the other party to validate and confirm our view of reality. When overused, we can lean towards telling more than listening or asking. If we do not feel heard, we might even go into Tell-Sell-Yell syndrome. Our focus at Level I needs to be on inviting open-ended questions and fostering a ‘give and take’ approach.

Level 2 conversations are Positional. They are characterised by Advocate and Inquire. I am advocating for what I want (not just telling you) and I am inquiring about your beliefs so I can influence you to my point of view. Level 2 conversations are about exploring another person’s position and working towards a win-win outcome. When overused we may appear to be addicted to being right and our questions will be focused on persuading and influencing others in order that they agree with our point of view.

Level 3 conversations are Transformational. It is the space in which we discover what we do not know together. At this level, we hold the space to explore uncharted territory. We ask questions for which we have no answers and listen to connect with the other person. We feel safe to open up and do not fear judgement. Together the parties can experiment and innovate. While appearing as an ideal level, this level can also be overused. In this case, there can be a lot of talk and no action taken. Too much idea generation and not enough execution.

Consider the following scenario from the 3 levels perspective.

A staff member comes to you with a problem that he/she is experiencing on a current project.

At Level 1 – “I suggest you address the problem in this way? Are you ok to proceed?”
At Level 2 – “Tell me more about the problem. We could approach it in this way? How are you thinking you might approach it?”
At Level 3 – “Let’s understand more about the problem? What are your thoughts? What have you tried? What are others saying? What assumptions are we holding about this problem? Are there any implications we need to consider in our decision?”

All levels have a place in our conversations. It’s about a balance between outcome and engendering trust in the relationship. Consider your own conversations.

What level do you typically use?
What level might you be over using?
What level could you start to use more of to foster better relationships?

Adapted from Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser (2014)