Good conversational skills can help you develop awareness, improve clarity, and ultimately harness the power of dialogue more effectively.
Right now, many of us can easily identify something in our relationships that we would like to change – it may be a growing estrangement with a teenage child or a low-grade but relentless friction with a colleague or an ongoing dissatisfaction in our engagement with our partner. Conversation is our only way to resolve these situations, but too often they don’t yield the results we want, and the situation stands to worsen. It might be time to think about how to have different conversations that do make the impact we really want.
The conversations we have, and how we have them, more often than not unfold in ways that result from the life experience we have gathered – mainly in an autopilot mode. We may cloak deep concerns in superficial conversations without realising what we are doing because we are not tuned in to what matters to us. We may talk around issues purposely because of our underlying fears of confrontation and conflict or our desire to please others. We may say things we don’t really mean because we’ve fallen into certain conversations when we’re actually not clear about what we feel and what we want.
“When we change the conversation; we change the story. When we change the story, we take charge of changing the ending or the outcome – and then, the future,” says Executive Coach and Developmental Psychologist, Erma Steyn, who will be a guest speaker at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning.
As a partner in Possibility Inc, Erma is part of a Cape Town team which has built on the work of Alan Sieler to develop a Conversation Map identifying 10 high performance conversations and 10 conversational skills you need to execute them effectively. She points out that our concerns – what matters to us most – drive our conversations, but that they are often outside of our awareness.
Erma uses a classic example: “Let’s say there’s an ongoing, irritable but superficial conversation with your husband about taking out the trash: ‘When is it going to be taken out? Why haven’t you taken it out?’ What’s behind the scenes is that it matters to you to have a more equal partnership and you want both of you to contribute to the household. But we are so busy and so rushed, we don’t take a moment to think about: why am I upset? What is really going on here? What really matters to me and what do I want to change? With some calm and distance to figure that out, our approach to the conversation will then be quite different. Then we can talk about what actually matters and not the superficial thing that the irritation is about.”
This highlights two of the most important conversational skills that Erma teaches – tuning in to oneself and actively listening for other’s concerns. The first enables you to reflect on and identify what really matters to you, and the other helps you to identify the driver of the conversation for your partner, or child or team member. “Without this awareness,” Erma says, “we might get to some sort of superficial agreement, but neither of us experiences satisfaction because we didn’t get to speak out about what really matters and find a mutual resolution. Most often, all it requires is for us to take a moment to reflect and pay attention to our own and the other person’s concerns. When we do that, we can tap into our inner resourcefulness and find that the answers are already there. Just a moment of attentiveness that can completely change the outcome.”
Erma highlights that when it comes to transforming more complex relationships issues and more intense conflicts, we not only need to be adept at internal conversations and conversations for clarity, but we also need to have the skills to confidently have those conversations that take courage.
Erma Steyn will be presenting the top three conversations and skills, including how to prepare for and have successful courageous conversations as part of the Cape Town programme of the upcoming 7th annual Festival of Learning.
SACAP’s Festival of Learning takes place in Johannesburg on 17th and 18th of May, and in Cape Town on 24th and 25th of May 2018.
Tickets for the 2018 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets. Costs are R200 for the full-day programme which includes dialogues and panel discussion. Tickets for the short-talk evening programme which includes catering and networking opportunities is R200. There is a special offer for students at R80 per ticket.