Why do some conversations make us feel good?

By IPATracey, Tuesday, 1st December 2020 | 0 comments
Filed under: 2020.

Why do some conversations make us feel good?

We all know people who drain or deflate us after a conversation with them. We also know others who are uplifting and we walk away in a positive mood, feeling like we’ve had a good experience. What prompts these two different reactions? Are we getting carried away with emotions in the latter and missing something from the former? And why does it matter which mood we’re left in?

The communication process is a two way, ying-yang dynamic – so the receiver also has a part to play in how they interpret and respond to what is ‘given’. However, in organisations, where hierarchy can be at play in this dynamic, it becomes more important for managers and leaders to be aware of their communications impact on others and take responsibility for delivering the intended impact.

The people who make us feel good after talking to them are likely to do all or many of the following:

  • Give us dedicated time and focus – they listen attentively and show respect by blocking distractions to really listen to others.
  • Make us feel at ease – they make it easier for people to approach them, open up to them and feel relaxed in their company.  
  • Create a connection with others – they are more attuned to others, show empathy and are more likely to share information with people but respect boundaries.
  • Have a positive mindset and language – they tend to use encouraging, reinforcing, affirmative language and focus on what is possible, rather than what’s not. It’s not unbridled optimism and reckless enthusiasm, but conversations are infused with a level of energy and positivity, that makes ideas seem possible and discussions good.

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.

This means that for communications impact, you need to focus less on the actual words you use and more on the dynamic you create with others. Remote working and the use of new approaches to communication presents you with an opportunity to reflect on how you create a positive dynamic with others.

So why do these approaches work?

The quality of our attention determines the quality of the conversation and, as a result, others feel valued. When people feel valued, they tend to ‘go the extra mile’. This can take the form of increased energy and focus, more initiative, more creativity in thought, more self-reliance and resilience to challenges.

Research shows that our style of leadership can influence the psychological safety in a team or organisation. A more empathetic style, with an absence of interpersonal fear, helps people feel psychologically safe to share and speak up. Increasing psychological safety improves information flow, exchange of ideas, trust and commitment, thereby strengthening decision-making and outcomes.

Be mindful that relationships are a two-way dynamic though. When we have a more ‘giving’ attitude, we create an opportunity for people to receive. Those with the opposite approach in relationships, ‘takers’, are good at extracting information from those around them, offering little in return. A one-sided approach does little to build mutual trust and openness.

Leaders are conductors and have great impact on others’ thinking, feelings and actions. It is imperative that you strengthen your emotional intelligence and infuse your language and thus thinking with positivity, empathy and possibility.  

Your role as leader is more than delivering on tasks. The environment you create through your actions and role modelling is critical to how you deliver outcomes but also in enabling others to rise to challenges, work differently and deliver better outcomes. Why would anyone want to do that for or with you if you deflate them?

Psychological safety, trust, conversations which land well are so important but rare. We have a great strength in our need as humans, which is different from other species, to be socially connected with each other. Social networking is the basis for learning, creativity and innovation, results.  Despite this innate need, we have to learn how to do it well, across a variety of circumstances.

So what simple steps can you take to ensure your conversations make others feel good?

  1. Make the first move: to engage others in conversation and put them at ease first. Give positive and affirmative body language and vocal signals, showing that you’re interested and listening. Be comfortable with yourself, as this will help them be comfortable with you.
  2. Stay focused: block out distractions. Interrupting indicates you are impatient and may mean you’re not really digesting what they are saying. Become aware of your inner monologue and when you hear it, learn to stop it.
  3. Learn to appreciate others and gain from their perspectives: find things you value in each person. If you find it difficult to connect with them, ask yourself if it is because they have a different world view, opinion? Turn your thinking to ‘how could understanding their perspective strengthen my thinking, decisions and actions?’ ‘What information are they giving me by being critical or unengaged?
  4. Become a giver, not a taker: when you give, you receive a lot in return. A more open, dynamic interaction paves the way for more information sharing, better connectivity, better engagement. ‘A rising tide lifts many boats’ – by helping others you’re helping yourself and the organisation.
  5. Infuse your language and thus your mindset with positivity and possibility: before you let the cautious, sometimes pragmatic or even critical mind mould ideas into safe, habitual practices, ‘let it all go’ and see where it takes you. Curtailing ideas and thinking at an early stage limits the leaps and bounds needed for innovation, significant change and improvement. You can always balance your free thinking with some good critical thinking later in the process.

Also, keep your emotions and reactions in check to prevent them ‘hijacking’ conversations. Reframe phrases, e.g. ‘what went wrong’ or ‘all the challenges we’re facing’ into ‘how can we achieve better?’, or ‘what more could we do?’. engages others in the dialogue and process of possibility, keeping people enthused and involved.

Working in a virtual reality accentuates the need for you to look more keenly at your communications approaches and how you connect with others and create an effective dynamic in your teams. It is an ideal time to take a more systematic approach to your communications, to see what is working and what is not. What’s the worst that can happen if you aim to make people feel good in that process?

For further information on the above post, please contact Siobhán Bradley, Senior Leadership and Managment Specialist via sbradley@ipa.ie.