Conversational Capacity

Author: Mason C., Inflow Technical Writer

I found myself doing that “thing” again. You know – when you sit there listening to somebody else talk about an important subject matter. You listen to them go on and on about their views and all you can do is watch in horror as you nod your head in agreement when your insides are screaming, “I COMPLETELY DISAGREE!” Even though I wanted to have an open dialogue that weighed two opposing thoughts (leaving both parties with a broader understanding of each other) I instead sat there, frozen by my instinctual need to “play it safe.”

The bad news is this tendency doesn’t just affect our personal, day-to-day conversations, we bring these bad habits to work as well. The good news is there are skills out there to help avoid scenarios like these, which we learned about in Inflow’s Book Club while reading “Conversational Capacity” by Craig Weber. 

What is “Conversational Capacity”?

“In the grand sweep of human history, our modern organizations are a recent invention and we’ve still got a lot to learn about putting teams together that really work when it counts.” – Craig Weber

“Conversational Capacity” speaks on the different skills that can be applied to have “open, balanced, and non-defensive dialogues in the workplace.” We’ve all been in meetings or conversations that have either turned into shouting contests or, in the pursuit to please others, we feign agreement instead of voicing our thoughts. Nikho made a really good parallel between teams in the business place and football teams.

What Nikho is saying is that Fantasy Football would NEVER work! (Not initially anyway.) Even with your free pick of all the top players, it’s not the skill alone that makes a great team, it’s their ability to communicate and work together toward a common goal.

In a perfect world, our ability to work well together would be directly proportional to our skills within a certain field. Since this is neither Fantasy Football, nor is it a perfect world, we have to adapt and learn to communicate together. This is where Craig Weber brings in the “Sweet Spot”. The “Sweet Spot” is the area where a team can have an “open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects in challenging situations.”

Many of us, however fall mostly into one of two categories: we either minimize, or win within a conversation.

Minimizers may be too afraid of conflict to add their point of view to a conversation, even if that point is of significant value. On the other side of the spectrum, you have Winners who care more about their point-of-view being “right” and accepted by the group, rather than what is best for everyone and the company. For example, that annoying family member who is adamant on making sure you know at EVERY family gathering that his political views are, IN FACT, right. This is a perfect example of a conversation where a minimizer and a winner are involved. The end result is always the same; the Minimizer walks away frustrated while the Winner gets a sense of self-justification of his or her views – yet nothing has been accomplished. Instead, both parties need to open themselves to all possibilities and come to the best decision.

It’s the people who see things differently that provide the most value.” – Craig Weber

This is really what we’re striving to accomplish: getting to that “sweet spot” where, as Kellie stated it: 

At Inflow, we want to open the floor to all ideas, so this summer we are hosting our first annual Inflow Idea Hackathon. Our goal is to make a difference in our industry and the way we make that happen is by changing the way we communicate with each other.

What’s so great about each Inflowee is that we each come from different walks of life with unique experiences to draw upon and share. That also means we perceive problems differently, and therefore what we see as the “right” solution may not always be the “best” solution. Fortunately, balanced dialogue isn’t about consensus as Craig Weber points out:

Balanced dialogue isn't about everyone on the team reaching the same decision, it is about helping the person making the decision make the best one possible.”

– Craig Weber

Being purpose driven is really the point Brittany makes. Each meeting should have a clear purpose, and the question Craig poses is, “What should change [within the organization] because of the meeting?” With a clear purpose, the team can focus on that objective as opposed to “who’s right” and “who’s wrong?”    

Truthfully, it’s about building meaningful relationships. Whether it be between Inflowees or with our customers, we’re striving to break down the barriers that often hold other companies back.

Yes, work is your practice arena for better communication and problem solving! Next time you’re in a meeting, try out the “Conversational Capacity” skills. Practice using more candor or curiosity. Test your ideas like hypotheses and inquire about other’s points of view when they fail to expound on their positions. There’s only one way to improve our ability, and that’s through practice. For example, some of us are minimizers (yes, you can stop pointing at me). It is very difficult and awkward for us to be candid. To state our perspectives clearly and concisely means that we have to put aside our fear of “rocking the boat” for the sake of bringing insight within a discussion. Sounds simple. Sounds easy. So often, however, our clear intentions are derailed by our “flight or fight” reaction. The only way to improve, as Joe states, is to discipline ourselves.

What we learn is it’s not about the skills alone. It’s not about forcing our own personal agenda on others. It’s about changing our mindset. Seeing the problem in a larger spectrum that transcends our singular finite understanding of “my” reality. It goes beyond just being candid in our approach, curious about other’s suggestions, or testing all possible solutions. It’s about being genuinely humble, purpose driven (not ego driven), so that in the end we’re all successful.

Next time you’re in a meeting, give these skills a shot. With a little practice and patience, you just might be surprised by how much more productive your meetings become. 

And in case you don’t fully grasp how detrimental it can be to have a poor conversational capacity, here’s my example:

George Lucas (Winner) + the whole Star Wars Production Crew (Minimizers)


Learn more about Craig Weber's book "Conversational Capacity" and purchase the book here.

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here