Leadership Mints Sampler: On Learning Conversations

Whether you’re a leader meeting with your direct report or a teacher meeting with your class, it’s not what you say that counts. It’s what you learn. That’s why leaders and teachers step into each other’s shoes. They engage in learning conversations. They inject a creative energy into a meeting. And they yield greater results.

The focus on a learning conversation is critical. It’s two-way. The road to enhanced performance as a leader or a teacher is not a ONE WAY expressway where teacher or leader is always in the driver’s seat. That’s why leading a meeting or teaching a class isn’t something you conduct for an another.

Leading a meeting or teaching a class is something
you deduct FROM each other,
you take away from each other
after listening carefully to each other
and only after proverbially
stepping into the shoes of the other.

Likewise having a Learning Conversation is not a fact fight where information is heaved like flame throwers to burn the other rather than burnish the ensuing opportunity.

That’s because a Learning Conversation is not a matter of force-feeding the flow of selected facts for another to digest but of brewing a broth of understanding that all can stir and salt to taste.

Stirring the Broth of Understanding

That broth of understanding and insight –also known as The Learning Conversation —sparks curiosity in each other to explore continuous improvement and seek to understand the other’s point of view.

That curiosity fuels a caring and sharing attitude that nourishes the learning environment and focuses on capability not on culpability.

As a leader, you can sustain that learning environment with three key phrases. Use these three phrases like so many logs to fuel the warmth of a Learning Conversation. And consider these three words to kick start those three phrases: ME, THEE and WE. Dave and Wendy Ulrich cite these three phases in their book: The Why of Work.:

  • ME: Help ME Understand what went wrong what went right.
  • THEE:  Use the Data to better define “THEE”  problem.
  • WE: Let’s focus on what WE can do to solve this problem.

Listening and feedback are the two pillars of a Learning Conversation that help you gain more understanding so that you can become a more influential leader or a more engaging teacher.

The key to unlocking that door to understanding is to remain inquisitive-oriented not inquisition-minded.

That’s why empathy is the crux of a Learning Conversation. In fact the “deepest form of understanding another person is empathy, according to the authors of Difficult Conversations, three Harvard Law professors who have also studied optimum negotiating skills and developed the concept around Learning Conversations.

Here’s how those authors –Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen –cite empathy’s impact on Learning Conversations:

  “Empathy  involves a shift from my observing how you seem on the outside, to my imagining what it feels like to be you on the inside wrapped in your skin with your set of experiences and background and looking out at the world through your eyes.”

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