You’re Bad at Conversations

It’s the truth. We (you, me, humans) aren’t great at talking.

Here’s why.

Most of us get a failing grade at conversations because we:

  1. Wait too long 
  2. Don’t prepare what to say
  3. Fail to get in the mood (aka prepare ourselves emotionally)
  4. Approach it from what we want vs. what is the common and necessary end result
  5. Say something and then assume the conversation is over

#5 is my favorite one to tackle with clients. They often want to break down what they are “going to tell” others. 

  • “I’m going to tell them they can’t do that.”
  • “I’m going to tell them that was disappointing.”
  • “I’m going to tell them how angry I am.”

Here’s a peek into how that plays out in a coaching conversation:

Client: “I’m going to tell [insert most anything].”

Leila: “Cool. You go and . . . tell them. And then what?”

C-level person/Founder/VP/leader: “What do you mean ‘and then what’ ”?

Leila: “What are you doing to say after you ‘tell’ them?”

C-level person/Founder/VP: “@#*!” [silence] [sigh] “OK, now I get it.”

Here’s what those leaders are “getting” in that point in the conversation:

You can say a lot. And say nothing at the same time.

Instead of just saying something, you need to think about what you want the person to do as a result of your words. 

Consider this: how many times have you given feedback to peopletold them what not to doand seen them do that same thing–maybe even the next day?

That person most likely isn’t willful or stupid or stubborn. Or a jerk or trying to get under your skin.

That person doesn’t make the connection between what you said and what you need and why. 

In conversations, you need to say something and explain why. And share the common and necessary end result. 

Silly example:

“Leila, I need you to arrive on time for the offsite. In the past you’ve arrived a few minutes late. When you arrive on time, we get started on time. Then, we can end by 3 pm. When we end by 3 pm, we all get cake. In this case it’s a flourless chocolate cake with a thin marzipan layer and some raspberry jam nestled underneath. If you don’t arrive on time, no one gets cake.”

HELLO. Leila will arrive on time. (I know, silly. But come on! Cake?! I’m there. And I don’t want to be the person holding anyone away from . . . cake.)

Humans can’t read minds.

It can be tough to make the connection between what isn’t working and the end result of what new behaviors can do—and why.

I want to believe in magic, but after a long time coaching people, yeah, no, people don’t just magically “get it.”

Say what you need to say and share the end result you want and need as a result.

Science Says This About Your Conversations

Finally, want to hear about some recent research on how bad we all are at talking? 

Read this article from Scientific American about how we don’t know when to shut up. 

Those are their words—not mine. The article is titled, “People Literally Don’t Know When to Shut Up—or Keep Talking—Science Confirms.”

When you’re talking with someone, do you have a good sense of when they are ready to stop talking?

Research tells us you don’t. Believe in science.