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Transformational Conversations: Are you having them?

Judith E. Glaser, founder of the Creating WE Institute and author of Conversational Intelligence, notes that 9/10 conversations miss their mark. As someone who communicates for a living, this statistic is shocking. I’d like to think that my conversations are MUCH more effective and impactful than that.

And yet, when I assess my conversations based on the three levels of conversation matrix (see image), I can see that I regularly have conversations in each of the zones – and all have their purposes and are appropriate for certain situations.

A level one conversation is transactional.

Transactional conversations are internally focused on confirming what I know and telling someone else about it. These types of conversation do not build trust, nor require a great deal of trust to occur – and we have them every day when we purchase something at a store or we tell someone that something needs to get done.

A great example of a transactional conversation is when I “tell” my children that they need to empty and fill the dishwasher. It’s not a debate … it’s a chore that they are expected to do. And, while I get my message across as is noted by the nodding “yes” of the head, and the “yes, Mom” that I hear, in reality they aren’t engaged and the request flows in one ear and out the other. Putting me in a position that I must repeat myself over and over again. Can anyone relate?

A level two conversation is positional.

Positional conversations are about persuading and influencing others to our own point of view. We have an opportunity to explore space together - and we might even seek a win-win solution – provided it fits with our desired solution. We ask questions (often leading), we advocate, and we work hard to move people to our point of view.

I regularly find myself involved in positional conversations at networking events, when those I’m talking to try to “persuade” me as to why their product or service is the right one for me. I find these conversations awkward as in many cases, the person who is trying to “convince” me that I need to use their services, doesn’t even know me or my business – and what they are trying to persuade me to purchase is truly not a good fit. And I definitely find this when I answer the phone for a “non-marketing” call that really is a marketing call.

A level three conversation is transformational.

Level three conversations are all about exchanging energy, ideas, and discovering together. It’s about co-creating within a neutral space to meet the needs of each participant. In this neutral space, we listen carefully to each other, ask questions to which we don’t have the answers, share and influence each other’s ideas and process, and build a high level of trust. It is in this space where we learn to partner and collaborate successfully.

In my work world, I am lucky enough to be involved in a number of level three conversations – and they are transforming how I work and how I interact with the people with whom I’m communicating. I notice this particularly on one collaborative project that I am involved in.

I am currently involved in one level three conversation that I am finding very satisfying. My partner and I didn’t know each other at the onset of our collaborative discussions. We had met at a networking event and recognized that we shared a passion for collaborative processes and using them to grow our businesses.

We decided to explore where that shared passion might take us. We started out by asking each other discovery questions – learning as much about each other as we could. This led to us exploring a variety of ideas of how we might work together, and ultimately led to the co-creation of a shared vision around educating others on the value of collaboration.

The space in which we talk is neutral. We listen to each other, ask questions that help us clarify ideas and thoughts,1 and we compile what we are learning into some really interesting and innovative concepts. The conversations we are having are challenging us to dig deeper into our ideas around collaboration, stimulating a much richer, intellectual conversation, and leading us to a deeper understanding that we can share with others – something that goes well beyond the surface.

There are times and places for each of these conversation levels; however, the more time we spend in level three – transformational conversations – the more oxytocin is released into our bodies.

And oxytocin feels great – it is neurochemical released by our pre-frontal cortex that creates a sense of connection, calm, and pleasure. Who wouldn’t want more of this? Learn more about oxytocin (and it’s counterpart, cortisol) and their role in how you feel and behave in our blog post “Bring on the Oxytocin!”

Track your conversations for a day. Are you having more level one, two, or three conversations? How did each conversation make you feel?


Angie McLeod, HIP Strategic Consulting is skilled Facilitator and Business Strategist who uses Conversational Intelligence tools and techniques to help her clients improve their communication and planning processes.


1 In Conversational Intelligence terms this is called double-clicking on an idea. Check out Marshall Goldsmith’s 3.5 –minute video “Double-Click Leadership” with Judith E. Glaser to understand how you can apply this tool in your conversations.

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