By Gerry Murray. 11-10-2020
(Scroll down for a laugh)

“That’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being - to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

Last week I wrote about 6 different kinds of conversations that should probably be taking place in an organisation. This week I’d like to introduce you to a set of skills that have been created by a conversational expert, Craig Weber

Craig has spent years working with teams to help them improve their effectiveness. Through his work, he discovered that a team's ability to have tough conversations could often be the real test of how effective that team was. Everyone can get along and be nice to each other. But what do you do when the going gets tough and the proverbial elephants in the room start to dance? 

So, Craig has developed a concept called Conversational Capacity, which goes beyond conversational skill or ability. It is disarmingly simple in principle but not so easy to implement without 3 things: 

  • Awareness of your current level of Conversational Capacity
  • Your Mindset around conversations and willingness to learn
  • Developing and practising the Skills of Conversational Capacity. 

Meet the Sweet Spot

Craig outlines how many people tend to approach conversations with two mindsets, neither of which are very useful. You can check in with these for yourself and this in itself builds your awareness. You can even equate them to the classic fight, flight or freeze response. 

  1. The Win response: I must win, always! [fight]. 
  2. The Minimise response: I shut down when I should speak up [flight, freeze]. 

You can also see how these are on either end of a spectrum -  Winning vs Minimising

Craig advocates for being able to balance these two aspects. Some colleagues and I are actively exploring with Craig how we can use our Harrison Paradox tools to help our clients build their awareness of their own and their team’s Conversational Capacity and, in particular, their balance on these two factors. 

So, Craig calls the balance between these two extremes the Sweet Spot

How do I get to the Sweet Spot? 

  • To reduce our tendency to minimise Craig advocates that we must develop and practice what is known as candour or frankness. 
  • To reduce our tendency to want to win we must develop and practice curiosity or become more open and reflective. 

Craig has identified two key skills for improving your candour and two for improving your curiosity:

Candour skills

1. Clearly state your position or opinion on a matter
2. Explain your underlying thinking that has enabled you to arrive at that position

Curiosity skills

1. Test your position with your audience
2. Openly enquire into their position or opinion

As I mentioned earlier, these skills appear simple. However, when you start practising them you quickly learn that they are quite challenging. It often requires courage to be candid but also courage to explore what others think and, perhaps, even admit that you’re wrong. There is a whole range of exercises you can do to develop these skills and more importantly get comfortable using them.

What is your Return on Conversations? 

Craig provides some useful tools for assessing situations where you and your colleagues need high levels of Conversational Capacity. He also speaks about the value in assessing your Return on Conversations (ROC). 

  • How many conversations produce results that everyone can live with? 
  • How many conversations resolve those thorny issues? 
  • How many conversations build team cohesion versus tear it apart? 
  • How many conversations waste valuable resources? 
  • How many conversations build Conversational Capacity for the future? 

These are some questions to ponder going into next week and I’m in no doubt that you’ll get many chances to answer them! 



I want to get people’s opinions to help me decide something...
I’ve just received an automated phone call saying I’ve won either €250 cash or 2 tickets for an Elvis Presley tribute concert. Should I press 1 for the money or 2 for the show?

My friend asked me for my opinion on his new bed...
I told him I'd sleep on it

A daughter shows her banker father her work on Bitcoin's lightning network to speed up transactions. In response, he asks her if she would like to hear his opinion on Bitcoin. She replies yes.
"It's worthless", her father says
"I know" She replies "But let's hear it anyway"

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