Conversational Intelligence

Book Review: Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, Book Reviews

We can now add Conversational Intelligence (CQ?) to Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Common Sense as traits we want to see in our leaders. As the subtitle suggests, in Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glaser explains how great leaders build trust and achieve extraordinary results. In my world, no significant relationship can exist without trust. No significant business transactions will occur without trust. And in Glaser’s world:

                    Trust, as we have shown, has deep psychological and neurochemical roots. Trust and distrust happen as our inner and outer realities collide:   my own inner                     and outer reality and my reality with yours.

My definition of trust, in human relations, is that “I get that you authentically have my best interest at heart, not just your own.” Glaser states that “People trust us more when we have their best interest at heart.” If we combine these similar definitions with the recent surveys showing who people trust (very few institutions) and then recognize that no significant business gets done without trust, then we can see why conversational intelligence is so critical to our human endeavors.

Glaser makes sure that we “get” how important Conversational Intelligence is in a practical sense. For businesses, it is all about building trusting relationships with your customers. High performance teams can’t exist without trust. On an individual basis, it’s how strong our network connections are since they too are built on trust. Her statements are backed up by neuroscience research. For example she relates how one experience led her to develop the “Ladder of Conclusions.” As read from the bottom rung up, the ladders is: Bio-reactions, Feelings, Thoughts, Beliefs and Conclusions. And the foot of the ladder rests on conversations. And she then goes on to say:

                   We read the ladder from the bottom up, starting with “Conversations.” From the moment of contact, bio-reactions occur at the chemical level; our reactions                    proceed to the cognitive level, where we are entrenched in our point of view and “attached to being right.”

  1. Bio-reactions: Conversations take place at the chemical level first and fastest—judgments are made within .07 seconds. Cortisol or oxytocin may go up; our hearts may beat faster. The  reaction at the moment of contact activates a network, either the “protect/fear network” or the “trust network.”

  2. Feelings: We label our interaction either “feel good” or “feel bad.” This translates into a judgment about whether the person we’re speaking with is a friend or a foe, with the corresponding judgment: I can trust you or I can’t.

  3. Thoughts: As we move up the ladder to the thought level we put words to our feelings—we make meaning (often, we are making stuff up).

  4. Beliefs: Once we make up our story, or create meaning, we pull in other beliefs we have about this situation or person; we draw from our past experience and we affirm our thoughts.

  5. Conclusions: When we have reached “Conclusions,” we block out a lot of other people’s opinions. We stop seeing or hearing other points of view. We may even move into a state of denial.

Conversational Intelligence is filled with such practical explanations about what is going on in our brains as we struggle to communicate. For me, the bottom line on this book is that it brings to light how our new understanding of human communication as it relates to our brain activity (fMRI), supports and strengthens the views that until we regain trust in human relationships with each other and our institutions, we will have a very slow economy. Conversational intelligence will be critical in the effort to regain trust.

While much of the information about conversation is focused on what goes on in a live human interaction, the observations apply to leadership skills in general. That should not be surprising since leadership comprises getting people to see the vision and feel the excitement. As an example, Glaser outlined 5 “Conversational blind spots.”

Blind Spot #1 The first blind spot involves an assumption that others see what we see, feel what we feel, and think what we think. Blind Spot #2 is the failure to realize that fear, trust, and distrust changes how we see and interpret reality, and therefore how we talk about it. Blind Spot #3 An inability to stand in each other’s shoes when we are fearful or upset characterizes Blind Spot #3. Blind Spot #4 is the assumption that we remember what others say, when we actually remember what we think about what others say. And finally, the assumption that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact it resides in the listener, characterizes Blind Spot #5.

Each of these, it seems to me, is a blind spot for leadership as well. Thus my conclusion is that this very well written book on Conversational Intelligence is also a book on how to be a great leader, or parent, or partner, or coach.