What rules the conversation?

man_woman_discussing

Jon just received an offer for his dream job: a more challenging job (in a good way), a bump in salary and a plum location.

The only trouble is, he enjoys working for his current boss Sarah, and he’s unsure how to explain that he’s leaving.  Hired directly out of college by Sarah, Jon hasn’t had to navigate a resignation conversation before.

As Jon speaks with Sarah, there are two types of rules that will govern how their conversation unfolds. Constitutive rules help us understand how to create meaning. Regulative rules guide the behavior of the conversation and communicate what happens next in a conversation.

Jon begins his conversation with Sarah by sharing how much he has learned from her in the five years he’s worked for her.  He mentions that she has been a role model in navigating office politics and securing resources.  Sarah must determine how to interpret Jon’s praise of her leadership (constitutive rule). She will draw on past experiences of being complimented on her leadership style and what those remarks meant (as well as her relationship with Jon) as she applies constitutive rules to make sense of what he means.

“However,” Jon continues, invoking a constitutive rule that suggests Sarah will need to make additional meaning out of what comes next. “I’ve made the difficult decision to take a role with a new firm.”

Sarah must compose some sort of response, governed by a regulative rule.  She may ask for more information about the new opportunity Jon is pursuing or if there’s anything she could do to persuade him to stay.

As the two engage in the conversation and co-create their social reality, they will discover each other’s rule systems. Some rules they have known from working together and some will be discovered in this novel situation.

While these rules are not spoken of aloud, they are constantly being negotiated in the moment, drawing on the life experiences and world views of the conversational partners, which may vary markedly. They may not agree entirely on the rules they are choosing to enact, but at least they can make sense of their conversation and what will happen next.

What conversational rules can you identify – either constitutive or regulative – and how do they shape meaning making or turn taking in the conversation?

  • 2

    20160118_113103

    Before I reached the point of being okay with my son and I hiking The Pass Mountain Trail on Usery Mountain in Arizona at our own very distinct paces, I was angry. Very angry.

    Angry that I couldn’t keep up with him.

    Angry that he wasn’t waiting for me.

    Angry that we weren’t having a mother-son bonding moment on the mountain.

    Angry that his flight back to Minneapolis was leaving in just a few hours.

    Angry that we technically didn’t have time to do the full 7.1 mile hike.

    And most of all, angry that we hadn’t made a plan before we set out.

    How many times has it happened that you assumed the other person was of like mind about a situation when, in fact, you had very different ideas about how things would go?

    I assumed there was no need to make a plan because we would be together. And, based on our speed and the time of day, we would together decide when to turn back.

    If I was with my best friend or my mom, that would have been the case indeed. But there are very few others who can read my mind.

    And so, we set off without an agenda.

    Without a plan, my assumptions took hold and ran the dialogue that played in my head: “I’m the parent here, I should be in charge. I am the responsible one and I need to make sure we get to the airport on time.  He’s flying Spirit so I’ll need to feed him before he gets on the flight. How can I be in charge if he’s a half-mile ahead of me?”

    A simple plan – before we set out – would have alleviated a great deal of angst for me (and eventually for him after he summited and reached the bottom, wondering where I was and whether he’d catch his flight).

    A simple plan would have taken just under a minute to hash out in the form of a few simple if/then statements.

    If we get separated, then A.

    If it is noon and we aren’t at the summit, then B.

    This simple, straightforward plan would have saved me 30 minutes of agony. Fortunately, it was only 30 minutes of agony. Given that he is my son, I’m predisposed toward forgiveness. Given that I quickly realized I didn’t want to waste the day being upset (30 minutes is pretty fast, at least for me), I found peace with our varying paces. And in my shift away from anger and toward the mountain experience, I assumed positive intent: he was just enjoying himself and the climb.

    It is easy to waste an entire day to frustration with our colleagues and clients over assumptions we are making in the absence of a well-communicated plan.

    Here are three steps for turning it around:

    1. Assume positive intent.
    2. Lean toward forgiveness.
    3. Vow never to spend an entire day (or even an hour) upset about something.

     

    Catch the full series of blog posts of my Lessons on Leadership from the Side of a Mountain.

  • 0

    20160118_105205

    Not long ago my 17-year-old son and I went on a hike on Usery Mountain just north of Mesa, Arizona. We took on the Pass Mountain Trail, a seven-mile loop around the mountain which summits about two thirds of the way along the trail.

    It wasn’t a particularly arduous climb but the intensity was elevated for us because we were pressed for time: he was catching a flight back home to Minneapolis in just a few hours. We had less time to do the hike than we would have liked.  As I raced across the mountain, numerous leadership lessons surfaced.

    Watch for new posts each day. In the coming weeks I will document twenty of them.

    Here is the full list to date:

    Lesson #1: Starting together means nothing

    Lesson #2: Make a plan; do not assume

    Lesson #3: Sometimes faster is safer

    Lesson #4: You will probably not fall to your death

    Lesson #5: Rest for a moment in a scenic spot

    Lesson #6: Enjoy the easy parts

    Lesson #7: It’s lonely at the top

    Lesson #8: Look for how things naturally fit together

    Lesson #9: Don’t look down

    Lesson #10: Don’t worry about who’s ahead of you

  • 0

    Interruptions

    Interruptions

    You know the guy (or maybe it’s a gal): the one who steamrolls the meeting with their own agenda item.

    You can see it coming: his eyes light up, he leans in a little bit, he’s even salivating, isn’t he?

    The next agenda item is remotely related to his pet topic.

    He’s getting ready to pounce.

    He gets his chance and then . . . BAM! He’s on a roll and there’s no stopping him.

    You send all the right non-verbal messages to get him to stop. You try to interrupt. You glance around the table and see that everyone else is resigned to the next 15 minutes (or more!) of his recapitulation. You give up and settle in, feeling defeated.

    “How do I stop that guy?” a participant in a workshop recently asked me.

    Here’s how you stop “that guy” from derailing the meeting:

    Step 1: Be Ready.

    You can’t effectively stop him if you’re not ready. Watch for signals that he’s about to jump in, uninvited. You might need to observe him in action a few times before you are fully ready.

    Think of yourself as a cultural anthropologist: your objective is to learn the characteristics and habits of the interloper. What actions does he take in the moments and micro-moments before he interrupts?

    Get to know those characteristics until they are second nature.  You’ll be better able to head him off – and you’ll be more confident.

    Step 2: Jump In, Just Before He Starts.

    You’ve studied him. You know his demeanor. You know the specific gesture he makes just before he interrupts. You’ve strategically seated yourself across the table from him so you have an unimpeded view. He leans in and adjusts his glasses, just like he always does.

    And then, BAM! You’re there. And you jump in and take control of managing the turns in the conversation. You have two choices:

    1. You take a turn yourself. That is, if you’ve got something to say.

    2. You give the turn to someone else. It sounds like this: “Let’s hear from Jeanne about how we are doing on the budget before we take the discussion any further.”

    Step 3: Redirect.  Respectfully, Of Course.

    If he persists — and he will — repeat the steps and redirect the conversation.

    It sounds like this: “Steve, I know you have a lot of interest/passion/history with this project. In order for us to address all the things we need to cover in this meeting, we need to stick to a tight timeframe to make sure we get it all in. We still need to hear from Sherry on the budget and Rick on the overall timetable first.  Sherry?”

    You need to say that with complete confidence and authority. If you waver in the slightest, he will jump right in and you’ll be back to square one.

    You might also seek the support of a confederate on this. Let someone else in the meeting, ideally one of the people you’d like to take a turn instead, in on what you are doing.  They can back you up – and be ready to take the next turn when you pass it to them.

    Your turn: Next time you are in this situation, jump on it.

    Be aggressive.

    Everyone will thank you.

    Well, okay, one person won’t.

    But everyone else will.

     

    Like this? Share this post with a friend today.

  • 0

    shoe

     

    shoe

    My daughter had a major meltdown on the second day of school.  Over shoes. She’s six. (Yikes!)

    We arrived at school without her “high-heels” pictured above. They’d made their debut appearance on the first day of school. She reported back that her teacher said high heels were not allowed in first grade. Based on that information, I removed said shoes from her backpack before we left the house on Day 2.

    Upon arriving at school and learning that the coveted shoes were not in her backpack, my beloved daughter responded with great drama. Now, drama is drama. Whether it is at home or office (or school), it really takes something to not get immediately sucked in as a full-fledged participant, being equally dramatic.

    In the shoe debacle, it was hard to keep from being unduly influenced by the unfolding drama of a first grader in tears. Not tears of sadness (that would have been much, much easier to empathize with and comfort), but rather hot, angry, raging tears. Much as I tried to remain calm, I admit it, I got sucked into the drama a few times.

    Emotions are contagious. I’ve written elsewhere about that recently.

    When I felt my exasperation overtaking my empathy and my attempts at being rational, I took a few steps back (literally, I needed the distance) and breathed deeply. This is a skill I’ve been working with my daughter to develop, too.  Whether we are six, the mother of a six-year-old, or working with those who are 26, 36, 46, 56, or 66, things don’t always go our way. We suffer set-backs, road blocks and rules that we balk at.  And so do the people around us.

    The more we can keep our head on around others who may, for the moment, seem as if they’ve completely lost theirs, the faster they will come around.  For every moment that I expressed my exasperation, it took twice that time to calm my daughter down.  The more I could be calm and rational, the more it created a space for her to be calm and rational. My emotions are contagious on her, too.  And that’s important to remember when emotions are running high and hot.

    Resolution came in the form of recognizing each other’s needs. I acknowledged that she had a “need” to have her high-heels with her at school that day, despite not being able to wear them. She “needed” them in her backpack.  I needed to get to the office, a need she had little care or concern about. But in order to get my need met, it was critical that I acknowledge her perspective, validate her concern and commit to future action (she could take the shoes to school tomorrow).

    If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check that her shoes are in her backpack!

  • 0

    20150814_143829

    20150814_143829

    I recently went kayaking and while I was out on the water, I had these observations about the similarities between kayaking and having a difficult conversation at work:

    1. Do the hard part first. In the kayak, paddle into the wind first, if you have a choice. Size up the waterway, the wind, and any other environmental factors you are aware of and chart your course accordingly. Focus on the most difficult part first, paddling into the wind if you must.

    At work, get the hard part of the conversation over and done with first. If you’ve got difficult news to deliver, be direct and be swift (and diplomatic, of course!). You’ll also come across as more sincere. It leaves a bad impression when you make small talk for 15 minutes and then deliver bad news.

    2. You have to steer to get where you want to go. The kayak won’t naturally take you where you want to go without you being cause in the matter. You may have to paddle hard to the right to explore the cove you’ve spotted up ahead.

    And in conversation, you can’t expect it to naturally go where you want it to when you have a specific topic you need to discuss. A hope and a prayer won’t get you there.  You have to take conscious, deliberate action to move the conversation to where you need it to go.

    3. Coasting is unpredictable. Sometimes in the kayak you need to rest. Or you want to. Whether your arms ache from paddling or you just want to soak in the moment, coasting is important. But it is incredibly unpredictable. Even if you think you’ve accounted for the wind and the waves and you think you know where they will take you, you don’t.

    Likewise in conversation: when you take your eye off the target and lose focus on where you want the conversation go, you will most likely end up in unfamiliar territory.  You might really enjoy where it takes you. Or, you might find yourself treading water on a dicey topic. It can be fun. It can be dangerous. It can be both – at the same time!

    4. It will be messy. In the kayak you will get splashed. Even if you are an experienced kayaker, be prepared to get wet. Water drips from the paddle, it splashes from the waves, it seeps into your shorts and soaks the magazine you brought along to read when you found that “perfect spot.”

    The conversation will go somewhere unanticipated. It will be uncomfortable. It will be difficult. You will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, be misinterpreted. Despite your best intentions. But the trust and respect that comes from taking on a difficult topic will deepen the relationship and make the mess worthwhile.

    5. The “other guy” doesn’t have it as easy as it seems.  The guy who passes you with a friendly wave from his sailboat, looking like he has the wind at his back and hardly has to do anything to zip past you has had his own share of challenges. Sure, he makes it look easy, but there’s a lot of hard work and effort that went into that.

    And the person at work who makes salary negotiation, giving critical feedback and conducting performance reviews look easy has had to work hard to develop those skills. For most people, effectively conducting difficult discussions does not come naturally. Honor the work that has gone into learning the important skill of facilitating tough conversations.

    6. There will be unexpected surprises. You will be paddling along in the most peaceful part of the lake. You will be thinking deep thoughts or no thoughts whatsoever. And a big fish will jump right near your kayak, startling you practically out of the boat.

    The conversation will be going swimmingly. And then your counterpart shares some unknown facts or some difficult news.  Or perhaps it’s good news. Either way, it may knock you off balance. That’s okay. It’s bound to happen.  Steady yourself, take a deep breath, and listen deeply. You’ll know what to say next.

    7. Take risks. Be vulnerable. Take the life jacket off. Live a little. What’s the fun of going all the way out into the middle of the lake if you don’t enjoy the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders?

    In conversation, take a risk.  Say what you need to say, even if it may not be well received. Be courageous and speak up. Deliver the difficult feedback to the person who would benefit immeasurably from knowing. Step up to the challenge.

    8. You can go farther than you think you can. Your arms may be sore from paddling. The hot sun may be beating down on your back and bouncing off the water onto your face. You may be tired, but you can always paddle one more stroke. You really CAN make it to the other side of the lake or miles upstream or wherever you’re headed. And even farther.

    You can build more trust and more respect into that conversation and take it farther than you thought it could go. You can learn more about the other person, disclose more about yourself, and see where the conversation takes you. You can go farther in one conversation than you ever thought you could.

    9. You don’t have to be an expert to succeed. A beginning kayaker gets out onto the water and experiments. The mere act of getting in the boat, learning to paddle and making the vessel glide through the water, with even moderate proficiency is a huge success.

    And in conversation, you don’t need to be an expert at facilitating dialogue to get great outcomes. You took on a tough subject, raised a sensitive issue. That alone is something many people shirk from. You are a success because you had the courage to take it on. Bravo!

    10. It is rewarding. In the kayak, you can go places you’ve never been. And you can see sights you’ve seen thousands of times from a new perspective. You came. You paddled. You saw. The rewards are limitless.

    After the conversation you’ll be proud of yourself for initiating it. And the rewards will last long after the conversation is over. You’ll reap the rewards through your increased confidence, your track record, and most likely, a successful resolution to a difficult situation. Paddle on!

    Like this? Share this post with a friend today.

  • 0

    listenings

    listeningsEditor’s Note: Don’t worry, this is satire.  But we do have a great resource if you need to improve listening in your organization. Check out our course listings for more details. 

    You’ve always wanted to listen better.

    You know the results of the studies: leaders listen more than they talk.

    You’ve seen the infographics: listening moves your career ahead faster than anything else. And you get to keep your clothes on.

    You know it intellectually, but it’s hard to implement.

    Your mouthy mouth talks more than it should.

    If only there were a device that forced your brain to listen and your mouth to remain closed.

    After years, decades even, of your mouth prattling on with little to no input from your ears and your brain, there is finally a solution. We’re calling this patented technology “Listenings.”

    Drastically Improves Your Listening

    Improve your listening 217% with the breakthrough technology of Listenings. They have the visual appeal of earrings but this accessory does more than merely accessorize.

    Listenings amplify the intellectual process of listening and reduce the likelihood of saying something stupid. First, the patented technology moves all human voice sound waves to the front of the queue for brain processing. The prioritized sound waves are held in the brain until comprehension is complete. Then, and only then, is there capacity in your brain to formulate a response.

    Listen More, Talk Smarter

    Listenings preempt your brain from releasing unnecessary words from your mouth. In fact, all attempts at speech are cycled back through your brain for accuracy, relevance and emotional intelligence not once, not twice, but three times – thus reducing the probability of saying something asinine by more than 382%.  You’ll produce smart, engaging, relevant responses every time.

    Listenings calibrate themselves to the power dynamic of the situation. They’ll amp up their frequency around your boss and your boss’s boss. And they’ll tune out that annoying person in your office who can’t stop talking about the bad date he had in 2004.

    Listenings are designed in both women’s and men’s styles and come in a variety of attractive styles.

    Bonus: Your Spouse Will Listen Better for Just Pennies a Daypennies

    For just an additional $99 upgrade to the Spousal Listenings and give them as a gift you your significant other. He’ll be listening to you just like he did when you were dating, hanging on your every word and responding with empathy, intelligence and appropriateness.

     

    Now here’s the part where I quit being so silly.  ?

    Working Conversations has programs to help your staff (and yourself) to become better listeners and better communicators.  We can’t promise that your staff will improve their listening by hundreds of percentage points. But we do stand by our training programs and guarantee your satisfaction.

    Contact Working Conversations today to start a conversation about your organization’s communication needs today.

    Know someone who needs “Listenings?” Share this post with them today.

  • 0