Conversational Intelligence

My husband, even though he is a pilot, has no sense of direction when driving!  If you are good with directions, you likely know someone, perhaps are married to, who is not.

On vacation, this summer we had a blow up!  I was driving.  I was certain which exit to take off the highway.  My husband was glued to his phone, using an app that said otherwise.  Boom, we were into an argument.  He yelled at me to listen to him as he knew the right way.  I froze, stopped the car, and told him to drive.  We continued the route that he decided was the only way, and I sat quietly in the passenger seat.

Much later, after he apologized for his angry outburst, he told me about his training and experience flying in low visibility conditions.  You must rely on the instruments or you die.

Why do I tell this story?  It is not about lessons in flying or driving, rather it is a situation that I believe most people have experienced.  It is a conversation that does not go well.  And it happens in 9 conversations out of 10.  Our intentions do not match the impact.

Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence has studied the neurochemical and relationship consequences of unsatisfying and damaging conversations.  It is important to understand as “Everything happens through conversation”, says Judith.

When I took an exit that was counter to the directional instrument, my husband’s amygdala was triggered, raising his cortisol and testosterone levels.  He responded with a ‘fight’ reaction.  In that moment, he was ‘right’ and it was critical for safety.  He was not able, chemically, to discuss our opposing views rationally and he had no access to the prefrontal cortex which provides a variety of alternatives and strategies for communication.

And me…my amygdala washed my brain with cortisol, producing fear.  My reaction was to freeze and appease; and I left the driver seat.  Neither did I have access to the prefrontal cortex, so I sat in the passenger seat stone faced and quiet for the next hour (at least).

Judith Glaser, Founder of the CreatingWE Institute, has developed a model for describing our neurochemistry, how to maximize our effectiveness in conversations with loved ones and in the work place.

Level I:  Transactional – Ask & Tell, Listen to hear.

Level II: Positional – Advocate & Inquire, Listen to Understand

Level III: Transformational – Share & Discover, Listen to Connect

In my (real life) driving example, both of us were in an amygdala hijacked state.  We could not have had a sharing and discovering conversation.  Later that evening we did, once the cortisol had subsided in the brain (research has shown that cortisol has a 26-hour shelf life and longer when events provoke continued fear).  We discovered new things about each other and we came to the realization that both ‘exits’ would have gotten us to our destination.  Most importantly we gained a greater appreciation for each other’s differences.  This stimulated another hormone, oxytocin, the cuddle hormone.

Neurochemistry of conversations applies in every aspect of our lives, and directly affects how well work gets done in business.

Example:  You respond to a client in a way that your Manager deems to be inappropriate, even wrong.  She/he says “why on earth would you say that to ……(client)?  You hear a tone of incredulity and disdain.  Your amygdala responds with fear, giving you four behavioural options: fight, flight, freeze, or appease.  You cannot explain to your boss why your response was appropriate, or even appreciated by the client you know well.

How do you and your boss spend the next few hours?  Certainly, it is not in a Level III conversation where both of you can discuss and learn from one another!

We know that communication is critical in all aspects of our lives.  And yet, most of us are poor communicators and we get it wrong 9 times out of 10.  Take notice of your physiology and chemical state and choose the best communication level to match your intent with the desired outcome.


October 3, 2017

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