The fact that a lot of people are talking doesn’t mean there are a lot of real conversations going on.
More to the point, the fact that there is measurable attention being paid to any particular topic does not guarantee progress.
In the mid 1940’s, the Congress of the United States introduced legislation to make it illegal for women to be paid less than men for comparable work. Decades of talk have failed to realize the goal.
And while the relative timeframes may not be quite as jarring as in the case of equal pay for equal work, the list of issues that have been the subject of conversations for years with little movement is lengthy. In no particular order:
- How long have those in and around the legal industry been discussing challenges associated with the billable hour? (It was a hot topic when I first worked with a law firm in the early 2000’s — and it had been going on for a while by then.)
- Or Diversity & Inclusion?
- Or how about the challenges facing the educational infrastructure?
- Or mass transit in your community?
- Or the cost of healthcare?
- Or the national debt?
As noted — the list is long. It can easily balloon to ten or twenty times what we might list here — without breaking a sweat.
Without respect to the topic, wherever today’s attempts at meaningful dialogue are framed by the same principles, perspectives and values as yesterday’s conversations, movement — never mind, progress — will be marginal, at best.
This is not to suggest there hasn’t been movement — even scrambling — on many of the issues we’ve been talking about for a long time. There has.
And we’re sure not suggesting that we should shut down the talk.
But how much time are you willing to invest in conversations that barely move the needle.
Keys To Better Conversations
“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” — Samuel Johnson
There are circumstances that, by their nature, tend to sharpen focus. But where important issues are at hand, and progress is the goal, we should hope for productivity before there is impending doom.
To that end, here are five thoughts on instigating better conversations.
1. Make Listening (vs. Talking) The Priority
We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about listening (yes…ironic). This is likely a subconscious reaction to the fact that we are so bad at it. But the focus is warranted, if for no other reason than nothing is communicated until someone decides to listen.
Intentions listening is not about hearing something; it is about dispensing with agendas, suspending preconceived notions, and striving more to understand than to be understood. NOT natural; but if the only thing we do is commit to the act of intentional listening, we will instantly change the quality of our conversations.
2. Connect Around Shared Values & Aspirations
Intentional listening is the key to the identification of core commonalities. Shared experiences are a good place to begin; but conversations that become substantive enough to effect measurable progress around big issues find footing in core values and aspirations. This is why communication aligned with things such as personal health and the future of our children tend to capture attention.
3. Dispense With Expectations
Listening is tough; but this one is nearly impossible. Yet, in conversations that matter, expectations are often a predictor of failure. Expectations easily morph into conditions; and when it comes to better conversations, a condition is synonymous with an agenda. Most of us resist conversations that are driven by an agenda.
4. Agree on Milestones
Identifying specific milestones serves three purposes. (1) It outlines the conversation, providing bite-sized continuity; (2) agreed upon milestones provide another point of alignment around commonality; (3) realizing a milestone serves as a win-win moment. The more you realize common goals, the more you experience the possibilities that come with building around shared values and aspirations.
5. Build a Bridge to the Next Conversation
Better conversations do not seek to end a discussion, but to make on-going dialogue a given. Next to Listening, nothing will change the nature of your conversations more than a commitment to tee-up the next conversation. This is the real win — a demonstrated understanding that learning is never ending, and that better conversations are the only path to real change.
No matter the topic — innovation, mental health, diversity & inclusion, leadership, a better world for future generations — if we continue to have the same old conversations, the past is, indeed, prologue.
The key to a better reality tomorrow — however you might define it — is a better conversation today.