More on Conversational Blind Spots

I’m learning more about the fine art of leadership conversations in Judith E. Glaser’s book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results.

In my previous posts, I mentioned two conversational blind spots leaders often have:

  • Making false assumptions
  • Underestimating emotions

Here are three more blind spots that lead to conversational misunderstandings.

Blind Spot #3: Lack of Empathy

Fear prevents us from empathizing with others. We become insensitive to others’ perspectives and cannot hear important parts of the conversation. When we’re able to listen deeply, without judgment, we can feel what others are feeling.

Blind Spot #4: Making Our Own Meaning

We naturally assume that we remember what others say. In truth, we actually remember our responses to what others say. Research shows that:

  1. We drop out of conversations every 12–18 seconds to process what others are saying.
  2. A chemical process within the brain seizes on our responses to others’ words — and these responses form the basis of memory.

Blind Spot #5: Assuming Shared Meaning

We assume that the person speaking creates the message’s meaning. In truth, the listener decodes the message and assigns meaning to it. As a listener, you run a speaker’s words through your personal vault of memories and experiences and attempt to make sense of the conversation.

Two conversation partners can’t be sure they’re on the same page until they take the time to validate a shared meaning.

Improve Your Conversations

In my work as a coach, we take time to observe and reflect on conversations. The first thing to notice is how you act and react in conversation. Do you “drop out” as you process information in your mind? What can you do to remain focused on what the other person is saying?

Every so often, check in with the other person to make sure you’ve understood them fully. This not only gives you an opportunity to verify their meaning, but also gives you time to finish your mental processing and adjust for misunderstandings.

You can take other basic steps to enhance the quality of your conversations:

  • Slow down. A conversation is not a race.
  • Breathe deeply. Take appropriate pauses. Allow time to process conversations.
  • Check your emotions.
  • Ask discovery questions.
  • Validate shared goals and meanings.

If you’re like many leaders, you tend to march forward at a breakneck pace to achieve goals and objectives — a pattern that prevents you from seeing the impact your conversations have on others. You’ve already moved onto the next conversation without considering if the last one was actually effective.

You may forget that the words you use are rarely neutral and have histories informed by years of use. Every experience you have adds a new layer of meaning to your conversations.

It’s crucial to work on managing any underlying feelings of rejection and protection, both yours and your listener’s. Only then can you harness your ability to reach out to others and achieve mutual understanding.

There’s a lot more to conversations than meets the eye, or ear. When you take time to reflect and process with your coach on how you manage conversations, you’ll become more effective as a leader who has high conversational IQ.

What are the tactics you use to have more effective conversations? Connect with me on LinkedIn to share your tactics for effective conversations.