Conversational Intelligence

Conversational Intelligence – Judith Glaser’s framework to help us listen, self-regulate and connect with others.   

While most of my blogs are drawn from my work and experience; this one is different as I am sharing something that I value in my work and that I think will be of interest to anyone who wants to improve their personal or workplace communications. I have included links to direct you towards further reading if you find this topic interesting. 

Judith Glaser in her first book entitled conversational intelligence opened up a whole new way of understanding and appreciating the value of conversations in our professional and personal lives.  She first became interested in the area while she was still a child observing her father who was a stutterer most of his life until a teacher took him under her wing. She encouraged him to take the lead in a school play and because of her support, his stuttering stopped. When Judith learned the cause of her father’s stuttering (he had been an emotional orphan) she became even more fascinated by the fact that he had been cured of his stuttering.  She wondered how this was possible.  At the tender age of just eleven she began reading medical books; specifically, books about neuroscience to help her figure out what caused the ‘shift’ that cured her beloved father’s stuttering. Judith dedicated over 50 years of her life to researching how the quality of conversations can change the direction of a person’s life. Glaser’s teachings on communications fit right into my wheelhouse; her framework grounded in theory and research provides valuable resources that help us to be better communicators.  Her work on Conversational Intelligence is at the top of my list of ‘ideas worth sharing’.

“To get to the next level of greatness, depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations!” – Judith E. Glaser

What is conversational Intelligence?

According to the We Institute® founded by Judith Glaser “Conversational Intelligence® is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations, we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow, and build partnerships with each other to create and transform our societies. There is no more powerful skill hardwired into every human being than the wisdom of conversations”.

Conversational intelligence provides a set of simple communication tools to enable us to develop better connections with others, increase trust, develop meaningful relationships, and avoid conflict triggers. Using conversational intelligence we discover our ability to activate our higher-level intelligence which promotes integrity, trust, empathy, and balanced judgment. Conversational Intelligence can be applied and understood in the context of both personal and professional life.

Glaser’s three levels of conversation

In her Conversational intelligence dashboard, Glaser illustrates 3 levels of conversation, each with its own merits and benefits (if used appropriately). At the core of all three levels is the measure of trust expected and the extent to which the conversations are either ‘I/me’ centred or ‘we/us’ centred.   The three levels are:

  • Level 1 Transactional: characterised as ‘telling and asking; trust is not a big or necessary feature.   
  • Level 2 Positional:  characterised as advocating and enquiring; at this level, we can expect to trust the other person on a conditional basis (wait & see where this goes).
  • Level 3 Transformational: characterised as sharing and discovering where openness and trust are paramount, and the parties are open to sharing ideas and being vulnerable in each other’s company.

One of the most important things to note here is that the trust element of the conversation is triggered by the chemicals in our brains.  If we get triggered towards anxiety our brains produce cortisol and as such, we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode; thoughts spinning out of control shutting down our access to logic, reasoning and problem-solving.  On the other hand, when we are operating from a fully trusting perspective our brains produce oxytocin; this feel-good hormone is related to innovation, creativity, relationship building and critical thinking. Conversational intelligence gives us the autonomy to influence the neuroscience in our brains in real-time allowing us to express our inner thoughts and feelings in ways that enhance our relationships with others.

Conversational blind spots

Glaser identified five blind spots that prevent us from having meaningful and productive conversations with others. Once we become aware of our blind spots it is easier to improve our conversations and ultimately navigate relationships more purposefully.

  1. We often assume that others see, feel, and think the same way we do but this is not always the case.
  2. We fail to see that fear, trust and distrust alter how we experience reality and therefore it alters how we talk about it.
  3. When we are fearful or upset, we find it challenging to stand in each other’s shoes. 
  4. We assume that we remember what others say but to be more accurate we remember what ‘we think’ others say.
  5. Most of us assume that the meaning of a conversation lies with the speaker when in fact the meaning lies with the listener.

Preparing the groundwork for Level 3 Conversations

If we want to improve our level 3 conversations, we need to have a clear idea of what we want to achieve from the conversation and then we must ensure that every interaction during the conversation is aligned with that goal or intention. In our eagerness to make something happen, we can often miss out on the nuances of conversation that will help us to get there. Exceptional communicators will have this nailed down in every conversation.  I have just recently finished reading Dragon’s Den star Sara Davies’s autobiography; now here is a person who can nail down those all-important level 3 conversations. She is charismatic, intuitive, creative, and inclusive but most of all she has razor-sharp focus and judgement. It was her ability to connect with people; to make them buy into her vision that made her a millionaire in a remarkably short time. We can all become master conversationalists if we embrace a proactive approach to listening, engaging and responding in ways that make the other person or people want to sit up, take notice and engage with us.  

I hope you enjoyed this blog and in reverence, to Judith Glaser’s work I highly recommend that you check out her book entitled Conversational Intelligence, how great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results.  I should also point out that I have only touched the tip of the iceberg here; sharing only the highlights of Glaser’s teachings to get you started.  I hope you will feel as passionate about this as I do and if so pass it on; it is definitely worth sharing with friends and colleagues.

Janet Tumulty


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