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TMA World Viewpoint 15 The Critical Art Of Conversation


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Effective communication is essential to the development of successful business initiatives and organizational change.

This TMA World Viewpoint outlines some behaviours and techniques that managers should be encouraged to adopt and avoid to promote the use of powerful conversations.

Published in: Business, Technology
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TMA World Viewpoint 15 The Critical Art Of Conversation

  1. 1. The Critical Art ofConversationTMA WorldViewpoint
  2. 2. The Critical Art of Conversation The café is abuzz with conversations - some between family, some between friends and others between colleagues or potential business partners. Some are quiet and intimate, while others are closer to a form of battle. The latter reminded me of a conversation I observed in a global diversity seminar that I had facilitated the day before.
  3. 3. The Critical Art of Conversation I hadn’t given the The conversation started relatively slowly with participants in the people feeling out each other’s positions on the topic and trying hard to be polite, but then it quickly conversation any morphed into a passionate debate. guidelines on how to behave. The speed with which people adopted positions and “Just be yourselves,” fought for them was staggering. I said. Gone was my advice of the day before – first, listen to understand, think and then speak.
  4. 4. The Critical Art of Conversation No one was listening, people were talking over one another to try and shut others down and win the argument. Positions were being misrepresented in order to score points. People stubbornly dug themselves into a rhetorical hole that they couldn’t get out of without appearing to lose face. I had said nothing about debating or arguing, I had just asked them to hold a conversation about a work-related topic.
  5. 5. The Critical Art of ConversationThe linguist Deborah Tannen calls the conversational climate in which we live today the‘Argument Culture’ and I couldn’t agree more with her descriptor.This culture assumes that opposition is always the best way to get things done or to arriveat the ‘truth’. It encourages an adversarial mindset in which views are polarized and fought for and active thinking can only be demonstrated by offering a critique.
  6. 6. The Critical Art of ConversationYou only to switch on CNN to witness the argument culture in action - find people withopposing viewpoints, put them together on the same broadcast and let them fight it out. The person who can grab the most air time and speak over the other person the most and the loudest, wins. People aren’t invited on the programs to listen, to examine assumptions, to learn from each other and think through solutions together, that wouldn’t be attention-grabbing enough. However, it’s so important to the quality of our public policies and our business solutions.
  7. 7. The Critical Art of ConversationIn terms of leadership and management development, we must place a high priorityon conversational competence.In getting things done through other people we need to spend considerable amounts oftime in talking.There is more than one way to converse with others, but many professionals get stuck intheir talk-habits.Business professionals need to have conversational options that they can applydepending on the context and objective. Closed Transactional Exploring Consulting Arguing Telling Open Transformational
  8. 8. The Critical Art of ConversationConversation can be placed along a spectrum from One-Way Telling (Closed) to Two-Way Exploring (Open).Along this spectrum are various options, the usefulness of which will depend on thesituation and the need.Conversational options at the closed-end tend to be transactional (information exchange)while those at the open-end have the potential for being transformational (shifts inmindsets, mental models and underlying assumptions). Closed Transactional Exploring Consulting Arguing Telling Open Transformational
  9. 9. The Critical Art of Conversation Exploring is a learning conversation (also referred to as dialogue) and tends to be underused. Its primary aim is the creative uncovering and examination of deeply held assumptions, values, beliefs and mental models that shape the way we see and act in the world. Once uncovered and understood, breakthrough thinking becomes possible.
  10. 10. The Critical Art of Conversation What are some of the behaviours and techniques you should encourage your managers to adopt or avoid to promote greater use of the learning conversation?
  11. 11. The Critical Art of Conversation ADOPT  AVOIDAsking open-ended questions A win-lose mindsetBeing objective A ‘one right answer’ mentalityBuilding on others’ ideas Being evasiveIdentifying and examining all assumptions, Blocking comments like “That won’t workincluding one’s own here”Listening to interpret meaning accurately Listening only to find faults Misconstruing the other person’s ideas toNot trying to reach conclusions too quickly suit your own purposeStaying focused on the goal of mutual Reacting too often with the “Yes, but...”understanding and learning responseSuspending judgment Wanting quick and easy explanations
  12. 12. To learn more about how TMA World can help your organization, please contact us at or visit