Why do conversations matter?

The word ‘conversation’ derives from the Latin con versare – to turn or to dance together. Are you kept on your toes when you feel deeply that the core of your activity is participating in ‘the dance’?

Conversation is the single greatest learning tool in your organization—more important than computers or sophisticated research. As a society, we know the art of small talk, we can talk about the weather or our holidays. But when we face complex or contentions issues, when there are feelings and different opinions, our defence mechanisms surface and this can impede communications.   Besieged by data, seduced by knowledge from books and the internet, many people seem to have forgotten the value of the wisdom gained by ordinary conversations.

The image of conversation most of us have is sitting round a board room table or simple left outchatting. Life is moving so fast, so much is crammed into each day, that an unspoken rule arises: if you have something to say, make it short.  Mental habits and another set of patterns restricting conversation stems from how people are taught to think.

In Parallel Thinking, Edward de Bono says that western culture has always valued critical thinking too highly. Teachers are always getting students to “react” critically to something put in front of them. The easiest kind of critical comment is a negative one.  de Bono also describes parallel thinking as a kind of flow that is possible in a conversation where different ideas are allowed and encouraged to emerge.

Organisations today need more than an agenda in important meetings and conversations.  Great conversations are underpinned by a framework and uses methodologies to help people move from a reactive into a proactive focus on innovative solutions. They need meetings that generate conversations that give people as much a say as possible over the issues that affect their lives and work. Such conversations are needed at every level of the organisation, so all involved can participate in the dance.  How would you feel if you were standing on the side-lines and were not invited to dance?

Is your organising utilising the single biggest learning tool it has?  Conversations underpinned by a framework and utilising participatory methods achieve buy in and commitment from stakeholders, gains faster agreements, saves time and generates innovative problem-solving.