B.E.T.T.E.R. Conversations

Posted on September 9, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Michelle Loch is a PCC qualified coach and an expert in Neuroleadership.  Her passion is educating and coaching leaders to high performance using neuroscience as a foundational theory.


Better Conversations_Original

I work with individuals who want to be better leaders, and with organisations that want to grow and develop better leaders. Leadership is about change, and change happens one conversation at a time. But often, the quality of our conversations in the workplace is poor; and as a result, leadership is becoming an unnecessarily time-consuming, exhausting and all-encompassing (read increasingly frustrating) activity.

Do you find that your team is constantly interrupting you to ask questions? Do you sometimes feel that you seem to be doing everyone’s job for them? Is it sometimes just easier to ‘do it yourself’’ or tell them what they need to know?

Research conducted by Judith E Glaser, author of ‘Conversational Intelligence’, found that as many as 95% of verbal exchanges in the workplace were ‘telling’ conversations.

When we are told what to do, we don’t have to think! And when we don’t have to think, we don’t engage! And when we don’t engage we don’t own!

The brain is ‘lazy’. It likes to conserve energy and will avoid doing the ‘hard work’ of thinking unless it is forced to! And we can do that through cleverly constructed conversations.

As leaders, we want to engage our team (and ourselves) in ‘effortful thinking’ and to find ways to create new thinking, and mental shifts. We want to be constantly moving the thinking of our people forward and into new places.  The ROI on effortful thinking is engagement and ownership of work-related issues and resolutions. And who doesn’t want that!

Recent discoveries, particularly in the area of social cognitive neuroscience, provide us with a fact-based, deeper understanding of how relationships are built and broken; how emotions impact us and how to better communicate with each other. We can use this new knowledge to our benefit in our workplace conversations.

We can have B.E.T.T.E.R Conversations!    

BETTER Conversations…

B: are Brain-friendly

E: are Emotionally balanced

T: are Toward focused

T: have Tested Assumptions

E: are Encouraging

R: challenge Responsibility

 And above all, BETTER Conversations are USEFUL rather than just INTERESTING! Think about how many conversations in your work day are really useful in terms of achieving your KPI’s. When you really look into it, we spend a lot of conversation and meeting time in the INTERESTING space, which feels good, but doesn’t leverage our time and productivity.

Let’s take a quick look into what a brain-based BETTER Conversation looks like, along with the associated mindSHIFTS that BETTER Conversationalists make in their skilled conversations.

Brain-friendly:   We have a great capacity for complex and creative thinking. Unfortunately we have habitually developed ways of interacting that interfere with that capacity.  Brain-friendly conversations are structured to account for how our brain is principally organised and follow a process that creates the optimal environment for focus, insight, solution-focus and social connection – all the ingredients for employee innovation and collaboration.

BETTER Conversations are designed to reduce the myriad of potential threat responses in the brain that draw precious brain fuel away from the pre-frontal cortex, our thinking brain, to our primitive limbic system (our emotional and survival centre) – resulting in a literal ‘logic shutdown’.  Brain-friendly conversations also focus deliberately on questioning techniques designed to enable insight – the AHA moment – which is a underused, powerful motivator in terms of employee engagement and behaviour.

SO….the brain-friendly mindSHIFTs a BETTER Conversationalist makes are:



Emotionally balanced:  You would know from your own experience that you cannot be really upset and think logically at the same time. Perhaps you have experienced making some less than desirable decisions in a moment of excitement?

Our brain cannot be limbic (emotional) and logic (PFC focused) at the same time. BETTER Conversations include the use of techniques and skills to manage and capitalise on our emotional responses to get the best from our brain and our collaboration efforts.

SO….the emotional mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Toward focused:  Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself based on response to experience. It’s how we adapt to our environment, and it is one of the ‘big neuroscience discoveries’.

Hebb’s Law tells us that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. We create and strengthen neuronal connections and pathways through attention and focus. The more attention we give to a particular pathway the stronger it becomes and the more prevalent it will be in our thinking, particularly when under stress when we have less executive brain to control where our thinking goes.

Creating new thinking means creating new neural pathways, and that happens via attention. BETTER Conversations deliberately focus on the Toward State – where we need to go and how we need to get there. So many of our work conversations focus on where we have been, and the issues at hand…which is interesting, but not particularly useful!

SO….the focus mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Tested Assumptions:  If there is one thing that I would say creates the greatest barrier to great thinking and effective collaboration, it’s assumptions we make. Of course, assumptions are merely our brain’s way of using its energy effectively. It saves energy by accessing past memories and hardwiring to make sense and meaning of what is occurring in the moment. Unfortunately, that information may not always be the most useful or appropriate for the situation.

Our brains are also biased, again, a survival mechanism. BETTER Conversations are curious. They take the time to examine our assumptions, to test the possibility of bias and to bridge the gap between one person’s reality and anothers allowing for leveraged productivity and outcomes.

SO….the assumption mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Encouraging:  Taking time to encourage the right thinking, and then hold attention on the right brain wiring can fast-track behaviour change. Carol Dweck’s work ‘Mindset’ suggests that we can operate in either Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset.   BETTER Conversations are great at creating Growth Mindsets, and people with growth mindsets….grow!

SO….the encouraging mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Clear Responsibility:  And finally, BETTER Conversations are clear about who is responsible for doing the thinking in an interaction. We pay our people to think, but we often end up doing the thinking for them. Instead we need to support them to engage in their own effortful and insightful thinking.

Instead of asking ‘How can I help you with this problem?’ and ending up with the problem squarely in your court, you can ask ‘How can I help you think this though?’ As a leader, your role is to facilitate great work, rather than always being the consultant and driver of that work.

BETTER Conversations make it clear that people are responsible for their own thinking, and skillfully support them to do that thinking as well.

SO….the responsibility mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Of course there are times when information simply needs to be shared, however even in those situations, using a brain-based approach to any conversation adds much value in making stuff stick.

Are you a BETTER Conversationalist? It’s a skill, and a skill that can be learned…after all, our brains are designed to make new connections and to learn and grow. Becoming a BETTER Conversationalist may require you to rewire you brain around how you engage with your people…but it’s worth it for the leverage, productivity, engagement and connection you will create in your team.

Michell Loch     Michelle Loch is the Founder and Director of UnLOCHed Potential and one of Australia’s leading experts in developing High Performance through NeuroLeadership, Team Engagement and Brain Fitness.
As a highly experienced Executive Coach, Facilitator and HR Consultant with over 25 years experience in the corporate arena, Michelle has helped countless business owners, management teams and entrepreneurs around the globe hone their thinking, improve their decision-making, and increase their ability to communicate, connect, inspire and engage with their team.

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