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Conversational Leadership

Mastering the Power of Constructive Conversations

An introduction to Conversational Coaching Clinics by Bill Cropper - The Change Forum

 

When you dig down into what leaders do day-in and day-out, they spend a lot of time having conversations. One recent survey suggested as much as up to 80%. Leaders plan, co-ordinate, decision-make, conduct meetings, monitor performance, manage relationships and they do all this through conversations.

Whether building a business, leading change, dealing with difficult discussions, revitalising a team, energising classrooms, coping constructively with complaints or creating an exceptional customer service climate, we dramatically underestimate the role conversations play in our lives – both at work and at home.

If conversations aren’t effective, coordination breaks down, mistakes multiply, relationships suffer and productivity plummets. When you think of it this way, having good conversations takes on a whole new meaning! The ability to conduct more skilful and collaborative conversations becomes an indispensable leadership tool – and a prime measure of leadership capability!

Taking this further, you can even reframe the definition of what an organisation is – not just a network of coordination and cooperation – they’re networks of conversations! It’s difficult then, to escape the conclusion that the quality of conversations leaders and managers have is one of the key elements for the effective functioning of any organisation. Take away conversations as the medium through which things get done and most things wouldn’t get done at all!

   Leading through Conversations...

The essential actions leaders take happen almost entirely through conversations – but most of us never stop to think how we might become better at them. Conversations set the emotional tone and build the positive working relationships that ultimately determine the performance culture of a workplace.

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Through conversations, we connect with others, inspire, influence, empathise, energise, and move people to action

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They’re the major forum where we build relationships, make decisions, solve problems, take action and learn together

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The quality of conversations leaders have is a telling indicator of team culture, leadership climate and change success

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It’s one of the key elements for the effective functioning of any team or organisation

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And conversations are the playing field where leaders most visibly exercise their own level of personal mastery, mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

   The Conversational Nature of Leadership...

Conversations are simply too important for leaders to ignore. In fact, leadership can be defined as “a string of conversations” – and the calibre of conversations you engage in is one of the key indicators for the effective functioning of your teams.  Knowing when and how to use different conversational tools is therefore a vital element for personal mastery, inspirational leadership and business success –  no matter what kind of business you're in!  Think of all the leadership tasks you achieve through conversations. There’s:

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The Change Conversation: answers the question - Why are we changing? You can’t motivate people to change without first addressing the WHY

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The Vision Conversation: where we shape shared visions, talk powerfully about change opportunities,  reinforce the direction or mobilise commitment

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The Goal-Setting Conversation:  where leaders identify and agree crucial goals or performance challenges and the strategies to achieve them

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The Problem-Solving Conversation: where obstacles, issues and dilemmas are clarified and solutions get sorted out and actioned

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The Coaching Conversation: engaging people in personal improvement dialogues to identify goals and mentor them through action and reflection

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The Connective Conversation: where leaders help others understand their emotional reactions and feeling patterns about events that happen at work

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The Team-Building Conversation: helping teams work better together – identify challenges, obstacles and ways to maintain good team functioning

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that conversations are the leadership cement that bonds everything else together in organisations. Take away conversations as the medium through which we get things done and most things wouldn’t get done at all!

   The Leader as Conversational Coach...

As a leader, you’re the role model for the way conversations happen in your place. All leaders need to become ‘conversational coaches’. Your ability to conduct more skilful, collaborative conversations is really an indispensable leadership tool!

If we don’t create a conversational work culture – and give people the chance to learn how to have better, more skilful discussions – can we really expect them to participate at will in the conversations we want to have with them – when we want to have them?

Conversational leadership is a subtle process. Effective leaders see the conversations they have not only as an opportunity to advance their own agendas, but as a means to express and share feelings, strengthen relationships, generate ideas and build commitment to agreed action.

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Managers need to guide, shape and extend discussions without taking too much control

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They need to persuasively put their own view while also being open to other’s views

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They need to encourage inquiry, yet also contribute as a colleague alongside others

Many managers have difficulty with this. After all, you’ve spent a lifetime learning how to be a forceful advocate - how to get your point across and argue strongly for your view. This kind of collaborative conversation is new territory for many of us. In their role as conversational coaches, leaders:

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Use different conversational tools to raise the level of frank, open interchange of views in their teams

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Facilitate skilful discussion and dialogue about the issues that matter

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Challenge other’s views constructively and respectfully in ways that don’t raise defensiveness and do result in creative synergy and shared meaning

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Confront ‘game playing’, ‘defensive routines’, avoidance, resistance and other evasive conversational tactics people employ

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Move people from debate and adversarialism to collaborative conversation

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Create a supportive conversational climate – build rapport, a sense of positive self-regard and make it psychologically safe for people to participate openly

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Suspend blame and judgement and appreciate ideas from everywhere

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Mobilise team thinking energy to get the best results and learn from each other, by reflecting on how we approach problems and question each other’s assumptions

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Are open to diversity and different ways of doing things – all perspectives are valued and opposing views are welcomed as part of the process of dialogue and developing shared meaning

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Are open to challenge, low on defensiveness, and keep inviting people into the conversational process – no-one feels diminished or alienated

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Think together with people – they have free-flowing 'dialogues' and avoid debate or disproving conversations where they show up another person as wrong-headed, obstructed or not worthy of consideration

   Conversational Coaching for Leadership capacity-building...

The Change Forum delivers a series of practical conversational coaching clinics for leaders who understand the importance of being able to converse with awareness and versatility as critical qualities for effective productive leadership.  Our clinics translate complex theory into down-to-earth concepts and easy-to-apply tools with real-life examples and plenty of practise opportunities to try-out ways to engage people in more positive, effective and constructive conversations. Our public series of conversations clinics include:

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Leading through Conversations – our foundation clinic for conversational mastery – is a 2-day practise-intensive program for current and emerging leaders that takes you through 7 key Principles for Constructive Conversation essential to building conversational awareness, flexibility and adaptability to strengthen and enrich your leadership approach.

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Dealing with Difficult Discussions continues to be one of our most popular coaching clinics, focusing on a process and tools to turn destructive confrontation into constructive conversation.  This targeted program takes a progressive path following a 7-Stage Roadmap for taking the heat out of  hard talks. Usually presented as a 2-day clinic though available in a 1-day fast-track format for in-house clients.

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Positive Performance Conversations is a 1-day master class that provides you with some frameworks and carefully-crafted conversational formulas for delivering fact-based feedback and help build your confidence and competence in dealing with low performers.

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Building Conversational Confidence is a unique 1-day program for anyone who would like to feel more comfortable and confident in all variety of speaking situations and generally have better, more satisfying interactions – at work and elsewhere...  Whatever level or role you are in, these easy-to-use tools and techniques help to reduce conversational anxiety and support speaking with more clarity, certainty and influence..

Like all of our programs, our conversational coaching clinics:

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Take a tool-kit based approach: Each clinic equips you with a set of simple, effective and easy-to-learn tools to enhance the quality of your conversations and widen the range of discussions you can have in all sorts of settings – one-on-one, meetings, problem-solving sessions and team discussions.

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Come with a substantial self-directed Guide to support your ongoing learning after the coaching clinic – containing simple explanations of key conversational concepts, step-by-step outlines of tools with tips to apply them as well as scaffolding to construct your own coaching program.

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Focus on actual tools: We keep our theory-breaks slim. After all, you can read about how to improve your conversations anywhere. We think people learn best through doing – so the focus of our clinics is on giving you actual practice and building confidence to use the tools back in real-life conversations.

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Accent practising in a safe environment: When you’re back at work, you seldom get a safe environment to practise in. In work conversations, you’re under pressure ‘playing the game’ – there’s no time to reflect, it’s too risky to try out a new tool or approach and you rarely get feedback about your conversational behaviour. Part of the appeal of our clinics is you get to practise in a safe, small group environment to develop new strategies for managing your conversations in a more mindful and effective manner.

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Deal with real-life conversational challenges: We address the real conversational challenges you face, adapting the content of each clinic to cover major areas of need or interest.

coaching@thechangeforum.com    OR    +61-(0)7-4068 7591 or Mob: +61-(0)429-687 513
 

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Copyright © Bill Cropper - The Change Forum 2002-13

 

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