In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Chuck Wisner, author of The Art of Conscious Conversations: Transforming How We Talk, Listen, and Interact. Chuck Wisner spoke about the power of stories in shaping our lives and interactions with others, the importance of self-awareness, and our egos' role in conversations. Finally, Chuck Wisner shared the four universal types of conversations and how we can maximize the effectiveness of each.
-Chuck Wisner on why we live in conversations like fish live in water
-How to break out of patterns of unproductive behaviors to be able to have conscious conversations
-How to avoid the common pitfalls that cause our conversations to go sideways.
-Chuck Wisner on why the stories we tell ourselves are not the truth and why we should investigate the stories we tell ourselves
-How our stories and other people's stories interact
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More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
[00:00:00] Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be speaking with Chuck Wisner. Chuck is the author of the recently released book, The Art of Conscious Conversations, Transforming How We Talk, Listen, and Interact. This is essential both in leading our teams and organizations, as well as our personal relationships.
So I really enjoyed the conversation with Chuck, understanding some of the elements that it takes for us to be able to be more conscious in the kinds of conversations that we have with others. I'm sure you will learn a lot from the conversation and enjoy it as well. I also appreciate hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. firstname.lastname@example.org There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast, Tuesday, conversations with magnificent change makers from the Greater Washington DC, DMV region, and Thursday, conversations with brilliant global thought leaders like Chuck.
Now here's my conversation with Chuck Wisner.
Chuck Wisner, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
[00:01:14] Chuck Wisner: Great. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having.
[00:01:17] Mahan Tavakoli: Chuck, I'm really excited and can't wait to talk about the Art of Conscious Conversations, Transforming How We Talk, Listen and Interact, because whether it is in our personal lives or professional lives, as we lead teams and organizations, conversations are core to that relationship building and helping align people, bring them along, and move them toward the objectives of the organization. So it plays a big role organizational and individually.
But before we get to some of your perspectives on conversations, would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become Chuck.
[00:01:58] Chuck Wisner: I actually grew up on a farm until I was about five or six. It was a working farm, but we were not the farmers, we were just residents on this beautiful property. And then we moved to a small town in Pennsylvania, and so if I sum it up, I'd say my family was a bit troubled. Some family dynamics that, that we don't need to go into and I had three older sisters. I was the youngest and I was this son which brought a whole lot of dynamics, which I talk about in the book. The difference between how girls are allowed to be emotional and how men are allowed to be emotional. So there was a lot of those dynamics, a lot of turmoil.
And I actually started playing drums when I was seven and I was so drawn to that. That became my life in school and in high school. By the time I was in high school, I was playing professionally with either rock bands and then a jazz band and actually recorded some music. So it was really my world. And when I went to go to college, I got really bad counseling and because my role models were a band director at some small high school in Pennsylvania and I already was playing professionally and geez, I'm not gonna go get a degree in music so I could be a band director.
And so I didn't go to college my first year out of high school. And the next year happened to be the first year of the Vietnam draft. I didn't luck out. My friends lucked out cuz they were in college. I was part of that first lottery, I got a number that wasn't safe.
I was gonna be drafted and colleagues said, come join the Air Force National Guard Band, and I auditioned for that and I got in. But that meant I spent seven years in the National Guard Air Force Band as of doing my duty. Playing music, which was had its downsides, but it was a nice way to serve.
And then in that seven years I actually started working in architecture. I had a pretty big creative side and I moved to Boston to go to architecture school and did that for many years and love it. It's a great profession. It's a tough profession. And then, To make a long story short, we had a partner problem at one point who became an alcoholic.
We didn't know how to deal with it. We got help. Her name was Linda Reed. Linda came in and just helped us see what was going on, helped us manage it. Got us out of the dilemma and I was like, How the hell did she do that? It's it was like magic. Here I am like, yeah, architecture is great, but I didn't know anything about this other stuff that seemed magical and that just put me on another journey.
And that journey then led to studying and mediation and four years later I left architecture and I changed careers.
[00:05:05] Mahan Tavakoli: What a wonderful way to capture your journey into studying conversations. I imagine though, Chuck, as a student of music, drumming in your case and then being good at it and playing in jazz bands, there is a certain level of conversation that takes place through music. So you were a student of conversations, even from your youth.
[00:05:37] Chuck Wisner: Absolutely. And so I became a percussionist, that means anything that has a hammer that hits it, including piano. So I had a wide range of instruments, but the jazz music really is a prime example of how to listen and respond because, I can play a drum solo, that's not my favorite thing.
I like sitting down with good musicians and just going at it, and it's this give and take and it's listening and responding and it's a lovely thing and a great example of how we can collaborate better.
[00:06:12] Mahan Tavakoli: And that's important. Chuck, you also mentioned we live in conversations like fish live in water, and I wonder is there a time when we were better at conversations and it's a competency that over periods of time we've lost, or is it a competency we've always had to focus in on to develop?
[00:06:35] Chuck Wisner: I think there's two parts to the answer. I think at one level, there's a lot we know about conversations and the power of words that we aren't taught. So there's a whole world of philosophy of language, there's a whole world of linguistics that sort of deconstruct conversations and words.
In fact, there's only five speech acts that everything we do can be constituted around those five speech acts. And then they unfold into more complexity. But growing up, we aren't taught in any of that stuff so that we don't have the distinctions about language that we do about other things. And in the book, I talk about the reason the practices are important is because if we are learning to play golf, or we're learning to play tennis or a musical instrument, you have to learn what a scale is and you have to learn about how to hold your drumsticks or you have to learn a whole lot of things to be able to be in that language. I think, and one of the reasons I wrote the book was to create some of this understanding that we never were taught so that we could no longer be quite as innocent in conversation as we are that we now have a responsibility to say, Oh, "I see what's happening" and change gears.
The second part of that can be brief is I think it's very cultural. I honestly, I think at some level, if you go way back to other cultures, maybe even the indigenous American Indians they had a whole different way of solving problems, a whole different way of talking out problems around their circles and power and the balance between masculine and feminine, that when the Europeans came, were doing it quite differently.
[00:08:35] Mahan Tavakoli: I love both of the points that you made Chuck one is one of the reasons I actually appreciated your book is that in every section you have practices that we can go through with respect to reflecting on and improving our approach to conversations. As you mentioned, it's one of those things that is a part of our lives, like the water and the fish's life, however, we spend very little time self-reflecting and working on it.
Another point you mentioned though, is that cultural element of a very individualistic focus, sometimes keeps us from properly listening and engaging in conversations. What I find is with the greater complexity of the world we need to be able to do that even more.
[00:09:28] Chuck Wisner: Yes. So if we get locked into our world, what makes sense to us? That's a huge barrier to hearing others, and interpreting because we're interpreting through our own filters. So some of this work isn't to self-reflect and do naval gazing. It's to self reflect and go, Oh, what's my story? And where am I hooked? And why is my ego getting defensive? Because then we can sort, shift and actually be more present and engage with and absorb other people in a much more productive way.
[00:10:09] Mahan Tavakoli: And I think that's to your point, it's essential in order for us to be able to connect with others. You mentioned repeatedly in the book also that self understanding is a big part of it. Now you mentioned the four types of conversations which are stories, perspectives, possibilities, and commitments.
And the first one being that storytelling conversations. You say the stories we tell ourselves are not the truth.
[00:10:38] Chuck Wisner: Yeah, I know that's a bit of a shocker for some people.
[00:10:42] Mahan Tavakoli: Disappointing. Chuck, come on. What do you mean?
[00:10:44] Chuck Wisner: Yeah, and there's a whole subject about what the truth is, but when we say our stories are not the truth 80% of our stories are based on our interpretation of what we're seeing in the world. All this billions of it data comes in. Our experience, our history, our culture, our family, our education, our religion, all of those filters tell us this is what's going on.
And we actually have a part of our brain that is a story maker, and it weaves all that together and go, this is what's happening, this is how you can think about it. And then we get attached to that, and we believe it's the truth. The fact is, it might be true, parts of it might be true, but it's only one story out of many.
And then I think I break down the book that our stories are made up of two things, basically are facts, which we can agree on or not agree on. There is no such thing as alternative facts and our opinions, and most of the time we're operating out of our opinions because that's how we identify ourselves. That's how we think about the world, and we respond from there. And that's the crooks of why our stories aren't the truth.
[00:11:59] Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, and that is really powerful, Chuck. What I find is that the stories we make up in our own minds about the world around us, about the people, about their intentions have a significant impact in our approach to them.
But part of what you also underline is that we also have stories about ourselves, and that also impacts our way of engaging with others.
[00:12:26] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. And I think I share a few personal examples in the book about stories that I had about myself. I don't know if you remember the big Enough Man story. Reflecting back on my growing up with three sisters, so the message I was given by my grandfather and by my father was, You aren't a big enough man.
Guess what? That was their opinion. That wasn't the truth. But as a little boy, I heard it. I gave them power. They were the adults in the room, and I took that as the truth. And so what that meant for me for many years was a lack of confidence, a lack of owning my own power, inability to push back on people, a fear of conflict, all because of that one story.
So yeah we all can take a little time. One of my teachers Rafael, he said we can take a look at our master stories, the ones that hold us back, the ones that don't allow us to be our full self and be in the world fully present and confident and all of that stuff.
So yeah, we can all have a look at a story that isn't serving us well.
[00:13:44] Mahan Tavakoli: And it's an important practice, and I know you also work with organizations and leaders when I'm working with CEOs or executives, sometimes it's getting people to become aware of the stories that they have as frameworks for their behaviors. So many times we haven't gone through the practices that you lay out to become even aware of the stories that lead to the assumptions that we base our habits and practices and behaviors around
[00:14:19] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. And it's true for both sides. It's true for the leader and it's true for the direct report or the worker or the associate or whoever you wanna call it, however you wanna call it, because that dynamic when you play out uncheck stories, let's call it that, right?
Then, the dynamic of the hierarchy and the power dynamic, things start getting pretty messy pretty fast. Even for a leader with power, he might have a story that is unchecked. He's not trying to do any harm consciously, but if he holds a story and it's unchecked and it has consequences for other people and he's blind to that, that creates a whole lot of turmoil inside an organization.
And likewise, on the other side of the coin, I've worked with leaders who realized that they were being jerks or they were being overpowering. They were really passionate. And one particular year I worked with Joe he was so passionate about what had to be done and he would get in front of his team and he was his flip chart, this was a few years ago, he would be drawing like, Yeah, we have to do this, we have to do this, and he would never get anything back. And when I started working with him and I sat in on meetings, I put the mirror up and said, Joe, You're not getting back because you're just coming on so strong with what you think has to be done, that there's no room for anybody else.
When he did change, then the receivers, when he did change, say, Look, I wanna make it safe for you guys to speak up. You might disagree with me, but when he did change, it was hard for them to let go of their story about Joe. So it gets pretty messy.
[00:16:06] Mahan Tavakoli: That is such a great example because in that instance, you had Joe change his story, change his approach, but as you said, when we have had experience with people, we have a tough time changing our story of them evolving and changing.
You also mentioned that our brain's ego's awareness and autopilot patterns serve to thwart our conversations, and I find our egos get in the way a lot, Chuck, my own ego gets in the way. So how can we overcome or how can we try to address it in a way that our ego doesn't get in the way of the stories that make up for better conversations?
[00:16:53] Chuck Wisner: Yeah, so many years ago I worked with some folks, I'm drawing a blank on his name right now, I'll think of it in a minute. He wrote a book called Voice Dialogue and he was ahead of his time because back then he was saying we cannot wrestle with our demons and our egos serve as demons often.
Neuroscience is caught up to that in saying we all have different voices, different personalities because of how we were raised and what our stories are. But rather than try to exorcize them , get rid of them, the first step is say, Oh wow, I have a story. I have an ego that says I have to be right.
So now we can beat up on ourselves. Now we're beating up on ourselves about negative stuff, which is a terrible cycle we'll never get out of, We'll just spin down into to hell. But to recognize and actually name that voice. Oh there's my know-it-all ego or , there's know-it-all Chuck.
And as soon as we can do that, we get a little separation from our ego. Rather than, taking over and we have to, blah, we do our thing, we get a little separation. Go, thank you very much ego, but you know what? There's other voices in the room. I don't have to be right. Let me listen. That sounds easy and it's hard work.
[00:18:17] Mahan Tavakoli: It is. And that's why I go back to the practices that you have, because one of the things is for us to try to shrink some of those blind spots through the practices. The more awareness we have, then the more we can change our behaviors and approach situations and conversations differently.
That's why it's important not just awareness at the level of reading and nodding, it's awareness at the level of self-reflection.
[00:18:45] Chuck Wisner: Yes. Yeah. So we, you, me, individuals, right? If we can break that down into two pieces. We can say there's the behavior, there's the behavior that I exhibit. I get mad in a meeting, I holler at someone, or I get quiet in a meeting and I disappear. There's that behavior. And we might have a coach or someone says you have that behavior, but really the only way to undo that behavior is to look at the thinking underneath it.
Do I have that behavior because I'm afraid? Do I have that behavior because I'm not confident about this subject? What's my thinking underneath it? And if we break that down, then we have a chance to go, Oh, I can break that pattern. I talk a lot in the book about we have these patterns. The reason I like that word is because it's less judgemental.
I can take a neutral look at my pattern and go, Oh, I do have that pattern. What's my story underneath that keeps me doing, and then we have a fighting chance to change it.
[00:19:51] Mahan Tavakoli: That is the objective. This becomes a great framework for us to have that fighting chance through that self-reflection. Now I cracked up when I read and I loved when you talk about exploring our private and public conversations and closing the gap. Just the awareness that our conversations are different in a public and private in our minds, and trying to close that gap.
So, can you briefly describe the discrepancy between the external conversations and the internal conversations and what steps we can take to close the gap?
[00:20:34] Chuck Wisner: Yeah, so our external conversation is we're all programmed and patterned to behave in a certain way in our interactions with other. My wife is from a waspy family. I don't come from a waspy family. Our rules, our standards about waht's polite in company is really different. I'm a more relaxed, I'm more probably more assertive, probably a little more rough around the edges. So we're all programmed in certain ways.
However, while I'm saying, Oh, how nice to meet you, or I'm glad to have you on board, welcome to the team. I might be thinking, Oh gosh, I don't know if this is gonna work out. They aren't showing up how I expect them to show up. And my theory is that the bigger the gap between our public conversation and our private internal dialogue , the more stress we live in. So it behooves us to take a hard look at our private conversation. Now, the scary thing for most people, and I've done this exercise with hundreds of people, is to write down that exercise.
Here's what was said and by me and by her or him. And here's what I was thinking the whole time, because when you write it down, first of all, you're getting it out of the jumble of your brain. You put it down on paper and most people go, Oh my God. I really did think that. What a stupid idiot. I can't believe she said that. I never wanna work with him again. I can't believe I ran into him at the coffee machine, whatever it is. Right? And if we can look at that honestly, and then ask four critical questions, what you'll find is there's gold in that poison. There's gold in that toxin of our private conversation.
And the gold means I can turn something that's really negative and there's plenty of swear words in the private conversation, I can turn something that's negative into something that I can talk about with the other person.
Hey, I have a concern about how this is going, can we agree on what we can do next?
Which all of a sudden sort of reduces that private conversation noise. And the less private conversation you have, the more present you can be in any conversation you're engaged in.
[00:22:56] Mahan Tavakoli: This is really important, Chuck, with respect to psychological safety in teams and organizations. Had a conversation with Timothy Clark on the four stages of psychological safety, and he talks about that the highest stage, you have very low social friction and very high intellectual friction.
When you are able to close this gap, in essence, it means you have the kind of relationship and ability to have that intellectual friction out in the open with the other person in the conversation, rather than the friction that is going on in our individual heads.
[00:23:37] Chuck Wisner: The work I do with people is say, once you know what your private conversation is, you're not gonna blur it out, cuz that creates all kinds of hell. And you don't wanna hold it in because that creates internal damage.
So the trick is you process it. So that you can have a fair, honest, open dialogue with someone that talks about, Hey, I have a concern, or, Oh, we're looking at that in different ways. Can we compare notes? Or, Oh, I see we have different goals. Let's see if we can talk about that.
That's, that, that's processing, that sort of stuff. That drives us nuts into a very productive dialog. Which doesn't mean avoiding conflict, he just means doesn't do it in a very productive way.
[00:24:21] Mahan Tavakoli: It makes the conversations more productive, more authentic and enables better relationships also, because going back to a big part of the point that you make, these conscious conversations are at the core of great relationships. So if we want to have those great relationships, we have to have this level of conversation. I also love the exercise that you have in there that Chris Argyris had come up with the left hand column exercise and the right hand column, and I found myself even in a conversation that I had with my wife, thinking through the right hand column, which you mentioned is going through the facts and then the left hand column, the emotions that we feel.
So when people within a team or organization you are working with them or guiding them to think about this exercise and its application, do you apply it individually? Do you apply it as a team? How can a leader and team benefit from this exercise, which I found very powerful in thinking through for myself.
[00:25:37] Chuck Wisner: With teams, what I've done is, we start by breaking up into doing individual work. So I'll ask each person. So think of a conversation that really riled you up. A conversation that had you spinning and upset. You walk away from a meeting going, Why in the hell did I waste my hour there? And then write down, do the exercise in the right hand column what was actually said, right? Cause what we say is factual. It can be measured, right? It's subjective. And then right in the left hand column, what was I thinking and feeling while I was speaking and while the other person was speaking.
So this, the left hand column is my whole dialogue of I can't believe she said that. She says something that I'm thinking she's totally incompetent. I say something, she says something, say, Oh man, we are really screwed like that. And so I have them do that exercise. Individually. And then I asked them what was in that left hand column?
And I get curse words, negative judgment. Unbelievable stupidity, meanness And that's pretty universal, and say, Okay, so relax. Don't judge yourself. You're not alone. We all do this. We're in a room of 20 people and we all do this.
[00:27:00] Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah,
[00:27:01] Chuck Wisner: And then once they're aware of that then we go through the process of, okay, what does it mean to process?
What would you do if you process this? And I give them the tricks to process. And then they pair up and they work with one another to process, right? And then the end is okay. If you had to revisit that conversation, how would you redo it? Now that you know what you know.
The goal is not to beat yourself up for swearing and having a negative judgment about someone. The goal is to say, Okay, what do I learn from that? What am I really trying to get at? And process it so you can say, Oh wow let's talk about this. So that's the goal of redesigning or reimagining and then executing a different kind of conversations.
[00:27:50] Mahan Tavakoli: And that's why Chuck, it goes back to the title of your book. We have conversations all the time. This is conscious. So it's being more conscious of the kind of conversations we have, and I love the thinking behind this exercise and the fact that it makes us much more conscious and then changes our approach to the conversation.
[00:28:12] Chuck Wisner: The book is organized around the four types of conversation, because that's a structure that held a lot of complexity. In fact I think I tell this story maybe in my introduction. Years ago working with a client from Chrysler, and he was a client for five years or so.
We, we were having a drink one night and he says, this is great, all these tools, mental models, emotional intelligence, all these tools, but I don't know how to connect the dots. Because what do I use when, I stood on that for quite a while until I came across this concept of the four conversations, which comes out of the philosophy of language world.
Because each conversation has different techniques, different tools, different practices, and so we take it apart and then we weave it back together again because we're in all four conversations practically all the time.
[00:29:03] Mahan Tavakoli: It's not broken down individually. We don't go through one then to the next one. It's all of them at the same time. The second conversation type you talk about is collaborative conversation. And I love you wrote in our interactions, we aren't transmitting and receiving data like TVs or radios, a signal sent out, signal received.
Unlike radio antennas, our reception of others' words is rarely straightforward because of our big, beautiful, filtering, sense making brains . So because of this beautiful thing we have, we aren't sending or receiving signals that are perfectly in alignment with the other person.
[00:29:47] Chuck Wisner: So what you say is I hear, but in a nanosecond it goes through those filters, right? Our sense making brain goes, Oh! And it, it could be your words, it could be your body language, it could be your eyes, it could be anything. But we pick up more or less, we all have a different range of ability there, but we all pick up all those cues and make sense of it.
And then we're, we are busy figuring out what our response is gonna be. So there's a couple barriers there to how. And why it's difficult to listen.
We can read as many books as we want about list, like to mirror the other person to reflect back their words to body language similarly, to ask them things.
But until we do our own work about understanding our stories, And create this ability or work on this ability to be more conscious about our story and our sort of attachments and patterns, it's really hard to change to be a better listener.
[00:30:58] Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, and that is one of the things that I find Chuck in interactions with organizations, leaders, their teams. A lot of times people are frustrated with the fact that they believe that. Other people, especially their leaders, aren't really listening to them. And you talk in collaborative conversations about open advocacy, open inquiry, and listening.
And in listening you mentioned being present with curiosity, empathy, and an ability to absorb other people's stories. My question is though we are all under. Lots of pressures, both cognitive pressures, the devices vibrating and sending alerts all the time. The world at our fingertips when we want it.
Lots of different priorities. What are some of the practices you recommend for us as individuals and leaders in organizations to practice to become better listeners because as you said, it's not reading about the listening. It's an actual practice to become a better listener, which is one of those things that I find in assessing organizations and teams.
People are most frustrated with their leaders. The leaders feel and believe that they are listening. Their people believe otherwise.
[00:32:28] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. So that chapter, that part of the book on collaborative conversations I hit the basics and it's very complicated, but I think that we're taught in pattern to default to advocacy. Our default is, I should have the answer. I should know the answer, in fact, that's how, why I get paid. That's why I get more stripes because I'm the smartest guy in the room or the smartest gal in the room. But we default to advocacy by training almost. I'd say one of the biggest things we can do to change our listening and to change our patterns is to default to inquiry.
And if things start going a little sideways in a conversation, just instead of getting defensive note, I'm getting defensive, that's not gonna get me anywhere. Let me see if I can understand this person before I jump down their throat and tell 'em they're wrong. And so if we default to inquiry, the trick there is not to do inquiry as inquisition, but to do inquiry with curiosity, to really wanna under where is this person coming from?
And I think you'll see the thread throughout the book where I use four questions, right? Those four questions become a great template for asking good questions, You're in a conversation and you don't get what they're saying and you wanna push back. You can say, Oh, let me understand.
What are you trying to accomplish here? Or, what are your concerns? Let me understand your concerns. That's the best thing we can do to start changing our pattern. The listening part comes from that internal ability to stop the defensive pattern or just stop the know it all pattern or whatever it is.
Because we have to change that and then really try. That's why I like that word. Word absorb. It's different than just listen, but it's one thing to listen to the word, but then to really absorb and understand or seek to understand as cover would say. Yeah.
[00:34:35] Mahan Tavakoli: What a gem of a perspective that we focus primarily and default to advocacy. Especially what I find Chuck is as leaders move up into organization, they feel like they. Have to be the ones that have the answers and that people look to them for the answers. That's not necessarily the case. We need to default more, as you say, to inquiry and genuine inquiry. It's not an inquisition. It is non-judgmentally trying to get the perspective of the other individual.
[00:35:11] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. Going back to our questions or conversation 10 minutes ago, it's a two way street. Like A, the leader has to create emotional, psychological safety that voices matter, that other perspectives matter and people have to accept that and test it because there are risks.
Someone could say that, but not be sincere about it, and then you get you, you get in trouble. So it has to be sincere, you have to test it. And for leaders, what they have to realize is how much power their voice has because of their position. It's great. And I have nothing against hierarchy, but how we operate in that world as leaders is critical. And most people don't realize that when they're speaking their opinion, which by the way, isn't the truth, it's often received as, well, that's what Julie wants us to do, so we're gonna march off and do it and so there's a responsibility on both sides rather than if Julie makes it safe, and when we don't ask questions it's our fault. But if the leader is unaware or unconscious and just doesn't realize the power of their voice, there's huge repercussions as you well know.
[00:36:32] Mahan Tavakoli: There is real power in that voice. Now, the third element, you talk about the creative conversation, and in it you say trust your intuition. On one level, I understand that the stories we tell ourselves are not the truth, so we have to challenge that. So how do we balance the challenging the self-reflection with trusting our intuition, which to a certain extent seems go with your gut feeling how do you balance those?
[00:37:05] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. So, on the creative conversation, this is about really, again, putting aside some of our patterns so we can think bigger and we can have an open mind so ideas can come in, right? Because I don't know for you, for me, for anybody listening, If you stop and think about if you had a great idea yesterday or just in a conversation and you ask yourself, Where in the hell would that come from? You aren't gonna find where it came from, but in that moment, you were receptive to receiving that. And so when I think about intuition, I'm thinking about being in that more open minded framework where something might come in. And if I close down and say, No, this is how it has to be. I'm not going to hear that intuition.
Whereas if I'm an open mind and go, there might be five possibilities different than the one I'm thinking about. Then an idea bubbles up from a group of people and you can go, Oh wow, I never thought about that. And the same thing happens to us internally. My wife and I have a game going on now where the one thing in the world that can stress me out as my kids. But otherwise I'm pretty good, but little things like when I'm working or when we're cooking or when, or even when I'm teaching a voice might say don't go there or, don't put your computer there.
There's a reason that voice was there, cause the computer falls or someone gets upset about what I said and so you're right, it's tricky business, but I think there's a difference that the private conversation that is negative, unchecked and unprocessed does carry, a lot of danger.
I think if we're in a creative open mind space or I think about, I can be in a conversation with a closed fist or I'd be in a conversation with an open hand. And if we're in that frame of mind, things come through, that's, I'm talking about listening to that. And one practice to do about that, which I mentioned in the book, is I like gardening and I like being outside, whether it was for the chainsaw or whether I'm about to get tomatoes outta the garden.
I love to go outside without a plan. Because then I'm like, not programmed, I'm not scheduling, I'm going, Let me go outside and just enjoy what shows up. That's a very different experience that most of us don't take time to have.
[00:39:41] Mahan Tavakoli: So that is the openness to the intuition, and one of the things that you emphasize repeatedly in the book, especially in creative conversations, is importance for us to focus in on our emotional intelligence and improving our emotional intelligence. How can we do that in order to have better creative conversations?
[00:40:07] Chuck Wisner: Okay. So what I believe and what my experience is that our emotion, our emotions are real. Someone says something, I get upset, or I get defensive, or whatever we do, right? Whatever our pattern is, the emotion is real. But our emotion is actually a physical body manifestation of our thinking.
And so part of emotional intelligence is A, recognizing the anger, recognizing the frustration, recognizing the disappointment, recognizing the sadness and then going, Okay let me understand how am think thinking about this, what's driving that emotion because each emotion has a story underneath.
Sadness, I just lost a dear partner and music friend, music mate, and that sadness is ah I'm going to live without my friend Fred. Life won't be the same. Or anger usually has a story about something's happening to me that I think is unfair.
So one way quick hit on our emotions is to recognize them, call them out, name them, and then look underneath and go, what's the story underneath there? Cause from then we have some breathing room. We aren't stuck on the emotion, we aren't reacting to the emotion. We actually can manage it and move through conversation in a much more present and real way.
[00:41:36] Mahan Tavakoli: Understanding those emotions is a part of understanding ourselves better and being able to have, whether it's creative conversations or even when you talk about commitment conversations, which is don't make promises you can't keep. The emotional intelligence plays a role in it. I would love to know your perspectives though, Chuck, you mentioned the role that authority plays in commitment conversations and within organizations. As much as many organizations want to talk about the fact that authority doesn't play a role, in reality, Both organizations that I've seen, there's still a role that authority plays, whether seniority, title, so on and so forth.
So what role do you see authority playing in commitment conversations, and how can we think about it as we are trying to get our teams to have better commitment conversations and not just look for the authority?
[00:42:44] Chuck Wisner: Okay, so for folks that haven't read the book, the commitment conversation is one of our favorite conversations cuz it's the action conversation. What are we gonna do? Who's doing what by when? And then we make promises. And we make promises. If I promise that I'll show up for the podcast, then you can make a promise that you'll publish it and then they else can make a promise, blah, blah, blah.
So that's the commitment conversation, and it's huge in business. That's how business thrives, right? By promises. We make promises at home too, we make promises in our communities, but put the promises and the commitment conversation into a hierarchy, and I'm not negative on hierarchy because it is helpful, but it carries a weight that if we aren't conscious of it, we have less clarity around commitments. We jump to action rather than think things through, or rather than consider other possibilities, other options, we jump to action. We're all addicted to that. What are we gonna do? That's a nice buzzword in meetings. Okay, what's next? What are we gonna do?
But the power thing in a hierarchy the downside is that unawares. The boss can say what do you think? And no one says anything. And then she says, I think we should do, go in this direction right? Everyone nods their head, The meeting is over, and guess what happens at the coffee machine? No way I wanna do that.
No, that's the stupidest idea I've heard. Forget it. And I'm not exaggerating that.
[00:44:25] Mahan Tavakoli: Chuck. I have to tell you, that is exactly the way it happens and the frustration, a lot of times leaders have, when I'm interacting with them, or coaching some CEOs, they say, But I asked people, no one said anything. So they are frustrated because that's exactly the way it happens.
[00:44:44] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. And when people might nod, say, Yes, boss. Yes ma'am. Yes sir. But then they leave and go, What the hell? So my advice to leaders is, First read the book and then take 15 minutes to have collaborative and creative conversations, because we have a tendency to jump to action.
We have to make a circuit breaker on that and go how do we stop jumping to actions where we might make a bad decision? We might regret a decision. We make a decision without information that we need.
Back up. take a little time. Go. Okay. Look it, there's seven people in the room here. I wanna hear everybody's perspective, and I don't want you to agree with me. I wanna hear the differences because that's how I'm gonna get smart. I'll be a better leader if you help me do that. And then the creative conversation is, okay, what are 10, five ways we can solve this problem?
Now, a lot of times the reaction is, we don't have time for this shit. I'll tell you, you don't have time not to do this stuff because of bad decisions, et cetera, right? 10 minutes to go, What are the three other ways we could solve this problem? And many times a solution might bubble up that the leader or any one person in the room might not have thought of.
[00:46:03] Mahan Tavakoli: I love, love, love that Chuck and I encourage the audience in addition to reading your book, to listen to these last couple of minutes repeatedly and put it in practice because one of the reasons many people have succeeded and moved up in organizations has been a certain level of bias for action. However, especially in a more com complex world where no one individual has all the information and all the smarts.
In that one individual, it is critical to learn how to have these types of conversations to engage a broader group. So this can be a superpower. However, it needs to be done consciously. It doesn't happen by just asking a default question at the end of making a statement about your belief and no one objects, then you move.
[00:46:59] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. And if leaders are experiencing that, would they say, Here's what I think, and then they get a silent room. Stop putting your idea out first. Just stop. Don't do that. Hey, we have a problem. This candle isn't operating very well. And then zip it up, And see what else is in the room.
See where other ideas bubble up just stop doing that.
[00:47:25] Mahan Tavakoli: It requires many of the skills, competencies, reflections you talk about throughout the book, going through some of the practices that you mentioned, Chuck, which I love, now the book is full of practices and at this point in the conversations I ask my guests for leadership resources and practices they recommend.
So practice number one is for the audience to read the book because it's full of practices now, are there any practices that you guide people to start out with as they want to become more conscious of the impact of their conversations?
[00:48:07] Chuck Wisner: Yeah. Generally when I'm working with a new individual and maybe a team, I always say the first step and probably 60% of the work is start tracking the conversations that trigger you. You're in a meeting, whether it's one-on-one or whether it's in a group meeting, something triggers you and you go, God dammit, you know this shouldn't be happening, or I can't believe we're going down that road again. Track those conversations, because what you'll find is there's a pattern here. There's gonna be either certain kind of people, certain kind of conversations, certain kind of leaders that trigger you. Become aware of those triggers and then deconstruct that.
When you look at why you are triggered, like looking at process in your private conversation. When you're looking at why you're triggered, why am I concerned? Are there power issues? Do I have a different standard? No. What do I want versus what's happening? We can deconstruct all that without a whole lot of effort and what happens is, and this my experience with many leaders, they go, wow! I have a whole new vocabulary here to understand why I'm triggered, which then gives me an opportunity to say how I can show up differently or how I can engage in a more productive way. So that's one it's really important.
[00:49:38] Mahan Tavakoli: And that is a great one, as you mentioned, to raise the awareness and help us show up differently. At the end of the day, that's what matters. As we grow and we have a greater impact on whether it is the organization or the individuals we interact with, we care about at work and in our personal lives.
How best can the audience find out more about you and connect with you?
[00:50:08] Chuck Wisner: I recently redid my website because the book wasn't forward, and now the book is forward and is chuckwisner.com. They can sign up for my newsletter, which I'm gonna start as the book gets closer. And my email is email@example.com. Feel free to shoot me a line.
And then I am on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter, on all those things, so they can easily find me on those places. And I'm hoping in the next couple months and as the book come with the book published that I'll have more opportunity to do podcasts and I'd really like to be out talking and seeing groups of people and audiences to talk about, just live with people.
[00:50:50] Mahan Tavakoli: It's an outstanding book and outstanding way for us to focus some of our mental energy on the awareness and on the practices that it takes for us to have more conscious conversations because we have conversations whether at home, at the dinner table or in the work environment, on Zoom or in person meetings, it's conversations. Those conversations require some time and effort and some focus.
Now, in the closing chapter, conclusion of your book, you have a quote in there from Hafez, and as an Iranian American, for anyone who is unfamiliar with Hafez the Persian poet, Iranian celebrate the Persian New Year, and everyone has the Hafez book on the table
it's much pride in Haas, but I also love these words. So I want to end with these words. Where in Hafez's poem, he says, How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all of its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its being. Otherwise, we all remain too frightened.
Thank you, Chuck, for being the light to help us have better, more conscious conversations, better relationships at home and at work.
Thank you so much for joining the conversation, Chuck Wisner
[00:52:25] Chuck Wisner: Thank you. Enjoyed it tremendously. Thank you.