In life and in business, we engage in conversation constantly. Much of our time and effort is spent speaking and listening to other people in meetings of one form or another.
As a manager, we often think about these conversations in terms of their content. We have a meeting in order to make a plan or reach a decision. The goal of the meeting is often to persuade, inform, or learn something specific, with the goal of taking action or making a tangible change.
But as a leader, we need to remember that the conversation itself is a powerful tool, separate from immediate, tangible actions that come from it.
I believe this for a few reasons.
First, people often need to hear an idea multiple times before they remember it. Most people will quote a number between 4-7 repetitions for an average group. This can feel repetitive for the leader, but it’s crucial for the team. So having conversations lets you convey the why, the reason behind the actions, so the team can hear these crucial things enough times to remember them.
Second, we influence and let ourselves be influenced through conversation. When we spend time with someone and speak with them, there is a gentle diffusion of culture that occurs. In organizations, you see almost immediately that the team starts to think like their leader, picking up his or her habits and traits, buying into his or her vision and norms. By having conversations, you’re opening your stories and ideas to other perspectives, and opening yourself to other viewpoints. If you have the attitude or perspective that proves more true, more relevant, and more successful for your organization, you’ll change the beliefs and behaviors of the people around you.
Third, conversation can build relationship. If you can find ways to connect at a human level, to open up and be vulnerable, to prove the psychological safety of dialogue with you to the people around you, you can build authentic, human connections—which are ultimately a person’s most important asset.
It’s difficult to think of dialogue as so important an opportunity. It’s hard to measure or attach a timeline to the benefits, and it’s tough to attribute a change to a set of conversations, instead of a well-though out action.
But don’t let the inertia and ambiguity deceive you: conversations are a vital tool for making positive, lasting change.