We all talk: sometimes to particular persons; sometimes to anyone who will listen; and sometimes to ourselves when we can’t find anyone to listen. In this blog, however, we’re only interested in a certain kind of talk: conversation--and just conversation within the business context. Indeed, we believe business conversation, whether face-to-face, or in texts and emails, is a unique technology made necessary by the knowledge economy. So the old saw, “stop talking and go to work,” is now outdated and obsolete.
Two young salmon are swimming upstream. From a distance they see an older salmon swimming towards them, downstream. As the young salmon cross paths with the older salmon, the elder says “The water’s nice today, huh boys?” The young salmon say nothing. Then one of the younger salmon looks to the other and says, “What the fuck is water?”
Based on more than 40 years of experience and a great deal of communication and behavioral research, we’ve concluded that in the knowledge economy, conversation is the real business of business. This is a reflection of how the skills of the economy have changed in historic ways. And it’s also a fact hidden in plain sight. Years ago, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, obsessed with the difficulties of language, pointed out that because of their simplicity and familiarity, the things that are most important for us are hidden. In other words, you don’t see something if it’s always in front of your nose. That’s why we don’t easily recognize what’s most striking and most powerful—that business first and foremost is about conversations.
Conversation is the foundation of all other abilities that increasingly make people valuable as technology advances. This conclusion leaves a lot of people out. Some of them went into their jobs hoping they wouldn’t have to talk much. Most have no humanities courses to support conversational skills. If, like many, they’ve had a communication course or two, conversation won’t have been in the mix. Furthermore, most grew up in families that were conversationally challenged. The consequence is
There's no doubt that history books will look at 2016 with. . . well, astonishment. Hoping to gain some marketing insight for 2017, here are the most read blog posts written last year. The most read posts are golden oldies from as far back as 2010. But I was especially intrigued by what I could learn from last year's top posts.
How to sabotage your own conversation.A significant group of generally smart professionals periodically shoot themselves in the foot with its use. They can resolve a problem, break it down into bits and pieces for a solid resolution--and even explain their rationale. But along the way their input loses its credibility for a simple reason. . . . Action on this issue will help you build your credibility.
A stupidity-based theory of organizations. This is one of those studies which tell you more than you want to know about how organizations actually work. The researchers don’t screw around. They nail organizational BS to the wall. What’s unique about the research are...
Nahhhh! That makes no sense. In those very few areas where I’ve done a lot of homework and some listening to conversations about the news, it’s very clear that very, very few (say 20%?) can spot fake news (enough adverbial uses of “very?”). The newscasters and opinion writers can’t or don’t, and neither can John Q Public.
Though not the same thing, we know, based on hundreds of studies, that people can spot a liar 54 percent of the time — a ratio that is perilously close to pure chance. Spotting lies from people suggests that
Now, mostly dead is slightly alive. In “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.
Sometimes it’s just a verbal tic. But a significant group of generally smart professionals periodically shoot themselves in the foot with its use. They can resolve a problem, break it down into bits and pieces for a solid resolution--and even explain their rationale. But along the way their input loses its credibility for a simple reason: they don’t understand that hedges limit their credibility.
It’s not just the Upper Midwesterners who hedge, but New Yorkers, Virginians and even Californians. Furthermore, it’s not just women who do it: a surprising share of men do the same thing. This small behavior happens too frequently—and inevitably means...
Words are slippery items. We now know that the smart conversationalist listens to see whether the important word in a sentence is “dictionary-use” or “situational.” This is not an academic game. Understanding the distinction can be a matter of career life or death. The fact of the matter is that words mean what we want them to mean. For example, what did Obama mean when he commented that Trump is not ideological. “I think ultimately he’s pragmatic…”
Words are dynamic In most conversations, words are tweaked. Their meaning is about what one person is trying to get across. We know that tweaking may emphasize values, emotions, priorities or even a specific insight. Dictionary-speak , where the person is talking literally, is fairly rare in conversations. Instead, like Humpty-Dumpty, words mean what we want them to mean. Talkers often use words sarcastically and ironically. Sarcasm is pretty obvious.
The other evening after listening to a neighbor talk about her family I asked whether she was "rules oriented." I was certain she was, but I wanted to double-check my prediction. "Of course," she said. "That's the best way to raise kids. Aren't you?" Amused by her shock at my negative answer, I was more intrigued by the fact that in spite of a number of personally-revealing conversations, she was clueless regarding my orientation.
Her lack of mind reading tools resulted in prediction failure.
As a business person, you can’t afford that kind of prediction failure. Your ability to predict others’ thinking and behavior is not only necessary for working with your boss, peers, subordinates, clients and teams, it’s also necessary for overall career success.
Mind-reading skills grow out of two disciplines...
It’s the smart folk that do well in business. At least that’s what we’re told—and I suspect that to some degree it’s true. But if it’s the smart folk, what really is smarts? Or, to put it in a more academic framework: what is intelligence?
Cognitive psychologists have played around with these issues for decades and they’ve arrived at similar conclusions. Typical is that of Harvard’s well-known Howard Gardner, who first captured my attention in 1983 with his study of “Multiple Intelligences:” To my mind, a human intellectual competence must entail
Identifying African behavior as stereotypical is dangerous stuff. I've learned from experience to issue caveats about most any racial or ethnic stereotype, admit to stereotyping and beg forgiveness--especially before using an ethnic or racial stereotype. Even then, you're liable to have to push through assumptions, in spite of the fact that the use of stereotype can be highly valuable for explaining behavior.
However, one of my young friends recently expressed his frustration at Nigerian and Somali friends who call to say they're in town and want to go out for a drink the same night. After experiencing this behavior on numerous occasions, he asked why they don't ever give him advance notice so that he won't have to reschedule his time to meet with them. They both responded, "It’s just African." In our diverse culture that kind of...
If you want to be a successful professional in today’s tough business environment, you’re going to have to be willing to ask for help—and know how to do it. Indeed, asking for help in today’s rapidly changing and complex workplace has been found again and again to increase learning, foster creativity and enhance change as well as organizational performance. A great deal of research has revealed that seeking help can contribute very positively to one’s success. Yet, seeking help, especially by men, is often viewed as a sign of incompetence. And so, paradoxically, when leaders engage in these very useful behaviors of vulnerability, many are fearful of threat or embarrassment, believing that their skills and abilities as leaders may be questioned.
Why this frustrating paradox? And what can be done about it? An extensive summary of previous research as well as two studies by the authors, Rosette, Mueller and Lebel, in the December Leadership Quarterly, confirm the issue, explain the roots of the paradox and point to some resolution...