The Lost Art of Conversation

On finally surfacing from an intense few months of work, I have at last transitioned from “doing” to “being” mode, and it occurred to me how little time is afforded to real, meaningful conversations, instead filling our lives with goals, tasks and general busyness.

I feel nostalgic for times past where the long days of summer involved hours of deep conversation, fuelled by the freedom of an unknowing, inquisitive mind.  Of course, in these moments of recollection, I may have donned my rose-tinted spectacles, but it seems to me that real conversation is an increasingly lost art.  We live in a world where communication is supposedly easier than ever.  We are available 24/7 and expect the same of others, we share the details of our lives via multiple social media platforms and often pride ourselves in how many ‘contacts’ or ‘friends’ we have. In fact, we seem to be constantly communicating and yet have less conversation.

conversationIt is a paradox that technology connects us instantly to multiple worlds whilst simultaneously killing real conversation.  The sight of screen-fixed faces leaves me with a sense that technology somehow results in an experience of everyone being lonely together.

The quality of relationships seems to be deteriorating, both within our professional and personal lives.   Organisational demands necessitate a goal focused mindset, with the juggling of multiple priorities and expectations at any one time.  Budgets are stretched and organisational structures lean.   The thought of taking time to have a conversation that doesn’t involve reviewing the latest sales targets or budget revisions but instead is a deeper, more personal exchange seems something aspirational, even a little fantastical.

The price we pay for remaining in this “doing” mode for most, if not all, of the time is the squeezing out of more meaningful connections, resulting in transactional relationships at home and at work.  We have lost the art of how to really converse.

Professor Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes this as psychological lockjaw.  Whilst many organisations speak passionately about employee wellbeing and invest heavily in enhancing communication skills, with time being such a scarce resource, it feels increasingly difficult to experience a real meeting of minds.  A true conversation is more than just the words, it is what goes on between the participants, in the eyes and the body.  Conversation is deeply personal, it requires a vulnerability that may be hard to show and is mutual, listening to others and being heard.

lonelyAs a coach and psychotherapist, I am often struck by the sense of loneliness and isolation that people experience in their lives.  Despite family and friends and busy professional lives, this real, deep connection is so often absent.   Social connection is a fundamental part of the human operating system, our brains and bodies are designed to function optimally in contact with others, not in isolation.  Our well-being suffers when our need for social connection is not met and before long we can find ourselves dwelling in a defensive state, perceiving the world to be threatening.  From this position, it is a tall order to retain the open and curious mind that enables a deeper connection.

As Cacioppo and Patrick found in their research, when we feel connected we are less stressed, our physical systems work more effectively and we send positive social signals which in turn enables us to receive more positive social signals, ultimately enabling a greater sense of well-being.  It seems the increasing lack of real conversation results in a missed opportunity for greater discovery about ourselves and about others and leaves a world of creativity untapped.

group-conversationSo, I for one am looking forward to rekindling the halcyon days of summer, filled with social connection and long, deep, honest conversations.  Whilst the demands of your daily life may make it seem like just another thing to add to your ‘to-do’ list, I invite you to seize any opportunity over this holiday period to give a little of yourself and welcome the same from others.

If you would like to explore how you may develop the art of conversation, either for you personally or for your business, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.

 ~Author: Jill Threadgold

Hold your breath and dare to dream…

Johanna Konta… Britain is on the verge of crowning another tennis champion.

The phoenix is set to rise from the ashes of the women’s game in this country as crowd favourite Johanna Konta powers her way through the draw and finds herself facing one of the game’s legends, Venus Williams, in today’s Wimbledon semi-final.  Now installed as the bookies’ surprise favourite to lift the famous trophy, the British number one has had a strong and steady rise to the top of her sport – not as meteoric as some, fewer headlines than many attract, and generally somewhat under the radar.

But Johanna, born in Sydney, Australia, to Hungarian parents, has spoken before of her obsession with ‘staying in the process’ – a technique that has served her well (no pun intended!) as she has climbed the world rankings since taking British citizenship five years ago. She famously practises mindfulness which she described as ‘a great habit to nurture’ and works tirelessly with her coach, Wim Fissette, on all aspects of her mental attitude as well as her physical sporting prowess. Following her latest Grand Slam progress, I couldn’t help but reflect on one of my favourite books – The Inner Game of Tennis: The Ultimate Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance.

Inner Game of TennisSure, it helps people play better tennis. But it has also been used to great success by applying its principles to other sports. And other areas of life in general. Because reaching peak performance is not just about achieving sporting greatness. We should all aspire to be our best self – whatever our role, career path, position within a family or organisation. We can all learn a lot from our latest darling of Centre Court – staying in the process, keeping focus and always being present in the moment is a valuable skill to learn and live by.

Johanna now knows what she needs to do to perform to a consistently high level. And she does it, day in, day out, on and off the court. Meditation, mindfulness and focus have become the cornerstones of her life and helped her maximise her potential. We all possess a unique skill set. If we combine them with a mental process that works for us as individuals, we can all raise our game. Sometimes, though, we cannot complete our journey to the pinnacles of success in our chosen field on our own.

Cue coaching. Sporting superstars would not be without a coach, and increasingly they are taking on a role over and above focusing on improvements in the forehand or serve technique. Good as they might be, they will never be 100% useful without the right mental approach applied to their delivery.

If you want to hone your existing professional and personal skills, talk to us at about our executive coaching packages and how they can help you stand out from the crowd.

In the meantime, let’s all enjoy being part of this patriotic crowd cheering on a sporting hero at the top of her game – but forever striving for even greater achievements. We can all learn a lot from her game plan.

~ Author: Jayne George

Do you have a Leadership Six-Pack?

six-pack-absI had a real insight last week, I attended Adrian Furnham’s talk, “from Good to Great” in London.  Adrian has written dozens of books on Leadership and I was really interested to hear his thoughts around this topic, particularly elements around whether Leadership is “teachable” or not, the “good to great” hypothesis and why leaders fail.

I was totally captivated throughout his three-hour talk and when I consider why he held my attention so studiously for so long, it comes down to two things; firstly, for me, any individual talking about leadership without exuding presence and charisma themselves doesn’t really do it for me, and Adrian has both by the cart load, secondly, he so eloquently challenged some of my deepest beliefs around the qualities of a good leader and how to spot one, not only in yourself, but in others too!  We are so frequently asked by our clients who we know that is a first class, truly exceptional leader, great people person, has presence, top notch business acumen etc etc.

select

So, how do we really spot potential in others (and recognise it in ourselves, as we have to lead ourselves before we can lead others…something you will have heard the iTS-Leadership team say more than once…)?

What are the true qualities of a great leader?

Well, traditionally in the corporate world most of us turn to the 9 box performance/potential grid to neatly plot our leaders, but how robust is this familiar tool?  I guess we can plot performance (based on results), but how can we really determine someone’s true potential?

True potential is so organic and can twist and turn as naturally as a river, we are all full of natural wisdom if we choose to tune in and listen to it, but often we get derailed and paralysed by excessive process, detail and politics.  Often during “potential” conversations in the boardroom, one might hear the words; “they will go far, they are bright, they are up there, the next big name…” but what does that really mean, and how accurate is it really, and can it always be backed up with more than a gut feel?  To be fair, I guess we have to start somewhere and the 9 box grid is practical and simple, but maybe too simple, what does it miss?

According to Adrian, he cites six personal characteristics (that can be measured) that give a really good indication of the potential for exceptional leadership.   We call this the “Leadership Six-Pack”.

  1. Conscientiousness – a good level of personal organisation
  2. Openness / curiosity – the more the better
  3. Approach to risk – wouldn’t want this to be too high, or too low
  4. Stress reactivity – how much pressure can they really take when the chips are down, the more resilient the better
  5. Tolerance of ambiguity – how certain do things really need to be – important when thinking about organisational change – would expect good leaders to be fairly tolerant of ambiguity and stay calm etc
  6. Competitiveness – a healthy level, but again not too high as this prevents sharing and can generate self interest

Adrian poses that (when measured) these personal characteristics give a broader view of talent and predicting future success/potential (as opposed to solely looking at performance and potential).  When he was challenged on the ability to relationship build (as a leadership skill) he said that relationship building naturally runs like a thread through these factors.

Food for thought, and maybe it is an “and” conversation, measure the above and then plot on the grid, remembering to measure yourself, as well as your people.  So useful, and one thing is for sure, get the right people in the right roles, then set the direction (the WHAT and the WHY or higher purpose) and the business will flourish, profit and smiles for all.

For more chat around any of the above points, please don’t hesitate to contact the iTS-Leadership team, we love hearing your insights and stories.

~Author: Liz Babb