Resonant leaders practice conversations that inspire

CEO meeting with team of business associates

Article contributed by guest author Gordon Sanderson.

Research shows that consistently high performing organisations engage strongly with their people in a way that opens them up to greater connection, better cognitive ability and behavior that gets results. Their leaders look to build capability by focusing on strengths and what’s possible rather than weaknesses and compliance. We can gain insights into why this is so by considering how the brain responds to communication.

In response to a perceived threat or reward, or in response to change, the brain moves people toward an “approach” behavior or “avoidance” behavior. It either stimulates a stress response from our emotional brain, through the release of the stress hormone cortisol, or stimulates a positive state by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning part of our brain.

What we say and how we say it influences this. When a person perceives a threat in the shape of criticism, disregard, threat to status, independence, or lack of control, it induces an action in the brain that raises stress levels and reduces cognitive functioning. This result is avoidance behavior. The person withdraws to avoid more stress and in turn loses touch with their constructive self. In contrast, comments that arouse a positive emotional state increase cognitive functioning that allows a person to be at their best, open to new ideas, critical thinking, and engagement in positive change.

Leaders who inspire people use language that opens people up. They appeal to a person’s vision, their strengths and talents, what’s possible for them. They tend to ask questions of the other person rather than telling them “how it should be done”.

Five Tips for more inspirational conversations:

1-Ask questions that open up to vision.

Asking these questions keep people open to possibilities, curiosity and the ability to look at a problem constructively with a solution in mind rather than in an emotional way, which is not forward focused.

2-Acknowledge people for “who they are being”.

It’s easy to acknowledge someone for what they have done but to recognise them for the character that they are showing, connects at a deeper level. You have to be really watching and empathise with a person to genuinely get in touch with who they are being.It is a gift to the other person to acknowledge this and a powerful way of connecting.  Rather than, “you did a great job with that” try a statement that acknowledges the character they showed, such as: “You showed a lot of persistence to get that through” or “that took a lot of courage”. An additional note:  You cannot authentically acknowledge someone at this deeper level without having empathy.  Empathy requires presence, and presence in turn is a form of mindfulness, a stress reducer.  There is a term described by Dr. Richard E. Boyatzis of Case Western University in the United States  “executive renewal”, meaning that certain experiences invoke the renewal process  from stress in the body.  One of these experiences is empathy, and this is because you cannot be truly mindful and stressed at the same time.  Intentionally practicing empathy is one method of getting in touch with executive renewal.

3-Focus on the solution/outcome, not the problem.

Remaining solution orientated connects more with an outcome and allows a problem to be considered in a different way. Research shows that most meetings get bogged down in the problem and the detail. This is because the meeting loses sight of the objective, or never articulates it in the first place. Consequently the problem is all that is discussed. The result is long, unproductive meetings. Try, for example, “The objective of this meeting is to define a set of actions that will take this issue forward towards completion”. Get people to agree to the objective and commit to the outcome and then facilitate to that outcome.

4-Ask, don’t tell.

Ask questions that inspire rather than use statements that seek compliance. If you are opening up to vision this becomes more natural to do. If you focus on problems then it is easy to slip into conversation that seeks compliance.

5-Avoid conversations that will close people down.

Support people’s status. Statements like “let me give you some advice” or putting someone down in front of others arouses a threat response and people disconnect. Respect people’s status and autonomy. A threat to autonomy will close people down and, more importantly raise stress levels. You will lose connection. Ensure people feel connected to the larger picture. A feeling of being disconnected will result in “away” type behavior. Inspire people and they will reward you.

What will you do this week to inspire people through your communication?

Try a different approach to:

  • One on one conversations
  • Team meetings
  • Collaboration
  • Performance Reviews
  • Building Capability
  • Invoking change

 

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