The role of Conversational Wisdom in helping people talk about their feelings

To kick off TJ’s coverage of Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, Sara Hope tells us that it all begins with the power of conversation

Conversations are how we connect. At work. At home. With friends. With colleagues. With clients. They are the golden thread that can either work for us or against us. They can lead to trust or distrust.  Make us feel threatened or safe. They are the lifeblood of organisations.

What we know is that people are now craving a different kind of conversation. If organisations want to create a culture where it’s okay for people to talk about their feelings, focusing on conversations is a great place to start.

Appreciating how conversations can work for or against us and how they can trigger different parts of the brain, can help us understand why it’s important to develop our Conversational Wisdom [1].

Conversational wisdom

Conversational wisdom is learnable, and is necessary to build more human, productive and sustainable organisations. Based on the research into leadership conversations, it provides a structure that helps leaders improve their leadership capability from a conversational perspective.

Conversational Wisdom

The model defines three essential conditions for anyone looking to engage in a meaningful conversation – being human, being aware and being skilled.

As human beings we are all driven by basic needs for meaning, human connectedness, for understanding, empathy, and feeling that we are valued and heard. We are all inherently emotive. This means that whatever and wherever the conversation, our emotions provide a huge part of the framework we use to communicate effectively.

Being aware

Peter Drucker once said “you cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first”. This is true when it comes to our own mental and emotional health. If we have a role to support others, we need to be looking after ourselves.

Awareness helps us to be mindful of all the different elements that inevitably come into play in our conversations. From our unconscious biases, to power dynamics, to the assumptions we may have already made.

Being skilled

Having conversations about our feelings can sometimes be uncomfortable – many would do anything possible to avoid them. When we understand our predisposition of keeping ourselves safe, it becomes easier to appreciate why we don’t relish the idea of stepping into this arena.

How then, do we develop the skills for having what may seem like a difficult conversation? We need a strategy to do it, and we need to practise. As line managers, we need to ask ourselves the questions: how do I recognise the signs and symptoms that somebody might need my support, and if I do notice that, how do I have that conversation?

Often, we give leaders the process to follow but not the opportunity to practice in a safe learning environment. To grow the confidence to have those conversations requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to experience discomfort, to practice, and to reflect.

To really shift our leader’s skills in stepping up to great conversations, we need to help them understand how to do this well and provide them with the opportunity to practice.

Being human

As humans we make meaning and grow understanding through our relationships with others and our world. Relationships are what surround and support successful conversations at work. Relationships support better conversations, and better conversations build better relationships. There is no separating them.

One way to strengthen our relationships is to demonstrate empathy in our conversations. This means showing that we listen and care, that we can see the world as others see it, and that we can understand another person’s feelings.

Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

[1] Conversational Wisdom is a registered trademark of the Conversation Space.

This article was published by Training Journal 13 May 2019 as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

By Sara Hope