Every successful group venture, whether in the business world, the family home, an educational setting or a community campaign, is the result of effective leadership. Simply put, leaders accomplish desired results by influencing others. The most significant contribution a leader can make is to change others through responsible stewardship.

Many frustrated leaders fail to realize that they have a perfectly useful tool for stewardship and change
in the art of good conversation. The steward/leader with a fundamental desire to effect common understanding and personal change can learn to accomplish those ends through conversational leadership.

Meetings run by such leaders are going to look a little different and sound a little different than the status quo. They might feel a bit uncomfortable at first to participants unfamiliar with the techniques of conversational leadership. The improved quality of the meetings and the significance of their outcomes,
however, make the guidelines for learning conversation worth practicing.

Adults construct understanding through conversation, yet our meeting agendas rarely provide time for any conversation at all. The really useful discussion occurs after the meeting has been gaveled to an end, as stimulated minds seek to make sense of what they’ve just heard. Insights, alternatives and solutions are more likely to arise in the parking lot after the meeting if participants have not had an
opportunity to engage in conversation about the issues during the meeting proper.

An effective leader who seeks to chair a truly meaningful meeting in which actual change and progress occur will want to enhance the capacity for effective interaction among the participants. After all, if there is nothing to be gained from their attendance, why are they even at this meeting? Currently what
happens at most meetings denigrates the purpose of gathering busy professionals around the table.

If the leader believes that this committee or other group has something to offer in the change process, then he or she will want to learn to use these five guidelines for learning conversation, which were originally given to me by Sue Miller-Hurst:

• Listen for understanding
• Speak from the heart
• Suspend judgment
• Hold space for differences
• Slow down the inquiry

These guidelines, which are really disciplines to practice, not unlike healthy eating or exercise, are not learned instantly, nor are they transferred immediately to the meeting participants. However, each individual committed to improved meeting outcomes can begin to practice these skills and encourage their growth in self and others. A good place to start would be with the leader.

Listen for understanding. Listen openly, without judgment or blame, receiving what others say from a place of learning rather than from a place of knowing or confirming your own position. Listen with equal respect for each person present, hoping to understand rather than to “fix,” argue, refute or persuade. At the same time, listen quietly to yourself as others speak.

Speak from the heart. When sincerely moved to make a contribution, speak honestly from your own experience. Speak into the stream of developing common understanding, not just to fill silence or to have your position heard.

Suspend judgment. Hold at bay your certainties and assumptions. Suspend any need to be right or have the correct answer. In fact, try to suspend any certainty that you, yourself, are right.

Hold space for differences. Embrace different points of view as learning opportunities. Don’t counter with “but.” Instead, contribute with “and.” Remain open to outcomes that may not be your outcomes. Encourage contributions from those who have remained silent.

Slow down the inquiry. Provide silent time to digest what has just been said. Allow further conversation to flow naturally, develop and deepen.

Mastering these guidelines requires consistent practice to release the habitual ways of thinking,speaking and listening. For conversational leadership to succeed, participants must be truly present and filled with intention and energy. A good way for the leader to start is to post these five basic guidelines,explain each briefly, and then provide opportunities for practice. Once the group comes on board with
enthusiasm, the leader might ask them to help assess the quality of the group interaction and suggest ways to improve the conversation.

Please visit www.GOJLC.com to learn more about how we can assist you enhance your leadership.

Author's Bio: 

Raymond D. Jorgensen, Ph.D. – Director of the Jorgensen Learning Center
Ray spent thirty years in America’s private and public schools as a teacher, coach, department head, collegiate faculty member and school administrator. Today he provides leadership development consultative services to a variety of public and private organizations and coaches the internal JLC leader consultants.

During his three decades of public service, Ray was called upon by various communities to present seminars on both the technical and personal sides of leadership, management and learning. These forays into public speaking defined Ray’s work with various businesses and organizations and ultimately led him to his current position as Director of the Jorgensen Learning Center. Ray has worked with public and private school systems, city and county governments, hospitals, banks, military, physicians’ offices, and a variety of private businesses as a keynote speaker, facilitator, and seminar-workshop leader. Ray’s professional consulting is defining programs as systemic efforts to develop the leadership capabilities needed for any organization to thrive.