Too many conversations miss the mark. We talk past each other, over each other and make up things that suit our motivations and needs. We can connect 24/7 from anywhere in the world at any time, but it’s not enough to have the tools to connect. We need to have the wisdom to connect.
We need Conversational Intelligence, a concrete framework for knowing which kinds of conversations trigger lower-level brain activity, such as primitive instincts for fight, flight, freeze and appeasement, versus what sparks higher-level brain activity, such as trust, integrity, strategic thinking, empathy, and the ability to process complex situations.
The more we learn about how our brain really works, and how much of our brain is devoted to social connection, the more we realize how the power to connect with others in healthy and productive ways becomes vital for our mutual success.
These tips can help foster a higher conversational IQ in a number of situations:
1. When you meet someone new
What to do: Say “I’m so glad I met you!” Or “You look familiar!”
Why it works: Our brains are designed to be social. The need to belong is more powerful than the need for safety. When we feel rejected it activates our fear networks and increases the levels of cortisol, which move us into protective behavior. A sense of inclusion reduces protective cortisol levels while increasing oxytocin, promoting bonding.
Focus on: Inclusion. This reduces protective cortisol levels while increasing the oxytocin, promoting bonding.
2. When brainstorming with a diverse group
What to do: Give compliments – appreciate others contributions, and say thank you.
Why it works: Appreciation reshapes our neural networks. When we appreciate others, we have a positive impact on their neural networks. Appreciation activates a larger framework of neurons in our brain that enables higher levels of ‘sight, hearing, and perspective-taking.’ Appreciation activates our ability to ‘see broader and think bigger.’ Reaching out to connect and appreciate others' perspectives even if you don’t agree lowers distrust and elevates trust, or ‘feeling like a friend.’
Focus on: Creating a larger framework for thinking together.
3. When you want to persuade someone
What to do: Put yourself in your listener’s shoes.
Why it works: Empathy activates the ‘mirror neuron’ network located in the prefrontal cortex, or the Executive Brain. When we are mirroring each other, we become capable of ‘seeing and experiencing the world through each other’s eyes’. This activates higher levels of oxytocin production, which has a positive impact on bonding, collaboration and co-creation and elevates the level of trust and openness. We become comfortable sharing more about what is really on our minds.
Focus on: Listening to connect, not reject.
4. When you need to solve a difficult problem.
What to do: Say, “Tell me your thoughts.” And listen.
Why it works: Uncertainty activates both distrust and trust. When we are uncertain it means that both the distrust and trust networks are activated at the same time. We can more easily fall into ‘groupthink’ to be safe in the crowd or we close up for fear we will look weak.
Focus on: Making it safe to be transparent about what we are uncertain about – don’t penalize those who speak up – encourage them to share.
Conversational Intelligence is the ability to master the power of connection to enhance our relationships with others – and in doing so we all become smarter at navigating our social highway. Conversational Intelligence is not about how smart we are, but how open we are to learning new and effective powerful conversational rituals that prime the brain for trust, partnership, and mutual success.
Judith E. Glaser's latest book is best-seller "Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results." She is Chief Executive Officer of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of WE Institute. Her clients range from IBM and Bank of America to American Express and Target.