Identifying Your Conversational Blind Spots
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
Successful entrepreneurs tend to be great talkers. They have to be. That's because they continually pitch their visions, strategies, products and services to investors, banks, employees, customers, clients, and partners. Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs blow critical meetings and discover too late they can't speak to influence and fail to connect. These entrepreneurs have communication blind spots or, more technically speaking, Low Conversational Intelligence.
Conversational Intelligence is a rating of the level of trust you create with others and the quality of interaction as measured by social scientists. Someone with high conversational intelligence would activate the prefrontal cortex of an audience member's brain, a section that enables trust and good judgment. A person with low CI, on the other hand, engages the lower cortex, where fear and distrust reside. Boosts in CI often correlate directly with business turnarounds and a high CI is often a high predictor of success.
Breakdowns happen when people talk past each other, not to each other. Once entrepreneurs become aware of their conversational blind spots, they can boost their C-IQ. Recent discoveries in how the brain operates pinpoint that people can learn to identify what is going wrong in conversations and how to "flip the switch" in their brains and others' brains to get communications back on a productive neural path. Here are three common blind spots and how to prevent them.
Not Seeing Beyond Your Vision. The tough road of entrepreneurship demands total belief in the enterprise. It's an invigorating state with a natural dopamine high. Unfortunately, this state can blind entrepreneurs to the need to get buy-in from diverse constituencies. In these cases, entrepreneurs might not have fully stepped into their conversation partners' worlds and aren't focusing on shared success, and are instead creating an unbridgeable gap.
These entrepreneurs need to shift from talking about themselves and their solutions to co-creating. This involves plenty of homework identifying what the people in the loop want from the enterprise. For example, a business plan presented to venture capitalists should document how revenue has already been generated or the high probability that it will be, since a VC's primary objective is to make money.
Shutting Down Out of Fear. Being afraid is a realistic response to uncertainty. When fear dominates, the primitive brain takes over, releasing cortisol and catecholamines, a hormone that's released during emotional or physical stress. These chemicals shut down the brain's prefrontal cortex, or executive functions, which allow for sophisticated strategies. Instead of responding intelligently and creatively to investors, banks or customers, entrepreneurs could freeze, coming across as dumb, defensive or unstable for partnership.
The solution is to acknowledge the fear. That frees entrepreneurs to change the channel. Instead of protecting themselves they can pay attention to what is going on in others and manifest empathy. The people they're speaking with will feel that positive neural connection and cooperate. Researchers in Italy, led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, found that human beings are wired with mirror neurons which pick up everything going on in others' brains. When we approach people with empathy, the mirror neurons in their brains synch with our own, and they feel understood and open to our influence.
Not Hearing What Was Really Said. Throughout civilization, effective salespeople, healers and change agents repeated what others had said to verify it. Intuitively, they knew what neuroscientists have recently confirmed: Human beings listen inefficiently, cherry-picking what they want to hear and embedding only that in their memory bank. Therefore, it is likely that entrepreneurs heard encouraging words from investors who were actually saying they were not interested. It is absolutely necessary to gracefully confirm what others are saying. For example, throughout the conversation, ask discovery questions such as, "Where are you in all this?" or "How do you feel about the pace of innovation?"