About This Episode
As business owners, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs, so much of our business success relies on how we interact with people—the way we talk and listen to them, how we make them feel, and how effectively we can communicate our intentions to our stakeholders. It’s all about relationships, whether they are online or in person.
That’s why we can never stress enough how important effective communication is, not just in business but even in our personal relationships at home, with our friends and families.
How can we have more conscious conversations with other people, and even with ourselves, that can help us grow?
That’s the question that Chuck Wisner, our guest for this episode of Brilliant Thoughts, a SUCCESS magazine podcast, dives deep into in his book, The Art of Conscious Conversations. He zeroed in on four questions that we can ask ourselves, and use as a guideline when inquiring of others in order to have more fruitful, collaborative, and effective conversations.
Prior to realizing the importance of language in our daily lives and making the decision to change careers, Chuck worked in the architecture industry. Now, he is an author and a leadership coach for team leaders of several Fortune 200 companies, such as Google, Rivian, Apple, Tesla, DTE Energy, and PSEG. He compiled what he’s learned with his personal and professional experience about how we can better hone our language for our business growth and success.
Your stories are not the truth
Stories are powerful tools for communicating with other people and navigating the world.
We all grew up surrounded by stories. Our lives, desires, concerns, authority, and standards are all driven by stories. As humans in general, we all have these internal dialogues—narratives that we create for ourselves or that were handed to us by others—that run in the background.
Despite being mostly in our unconscious, these stories are what we live by, what we use to shape our realities, and they act almost like our operating systems. Yet our stories are not necessarily the truth. And there are stories that we adopt from our families, our religion, or our culture that can be self-limiting.
“They can live inside our psyche for a very long time,” Chuck tells us. Sadly, there are people who live out their whole lives unaware that they are limited by the narratives they choose to tell themselves. And there are some who are aware and suffer from these stories they can’t undo.
When we acknowledge the fact that our stories are not necessarily true, we open ourselves to more possibilities:
- To ask questions, ground ourselves in reality, and investigate these stories,
- To loosen the grip that these stories that no longer serve us have on us, and
- To adopt new stories, new patterns, and practices that help us grow.
The four questions we need to ask ourselves (and others)
Since our stories are not the truth, we need to pick them apart and remove the things that do not serve us and hold us down. The easiest way to have this awareness—the first step in any endeavor that involves growth and learning new things—is to ask questions.
“Our stories can be broken down into facts, emotions, and opinions,” Chuck says. Setting aside the political belief that there are alternative facts, we can all agree that facts are facts.
Emotions, on the other hand, “are actually a reflection of our thinking, our opinions, our prejudices, and our beliefs,” Chuck continues.
If we want to deal with our emotions, we have to dive deep into how we think by asking these four questions:
- What are my desires?
- What are my concerns?
- What are the power issues at play here?
- What rules and codes of conduct are shaping my opinions and judgments?
These four questions explore four pillars:
- Desires: These could either be goals that motivate us to take action, or make us suffer when misaligned with our reality
- Concerns: The problem that stands in the way of our goals and desires
- Authority issues: What power dynamics are at play, considering our relationship relative to who we are and who we are talking to
- Standards: These standards are often set by the society or culture we belong to, that we chose to adopt
Most of our desires, standards, and authority issues live in the background, in our unconsciousness, but they are driving a lot of our reactions and behaviors. Asking these questions helps bring out into the open what is hidden in the unknown recesses of our minds.
And when they are out in the open, we can find it easier to investigate these stories and see whether they are something we need to let go of because they no longer serve us, accept that these stories and standards are different and it is okay to agree to disagree, or if they are in need of editing or adopting new narratives and practices.
This applies to the internal dialogues we have as well as understanding others better by asking them about themselves and how they think.
Patterns and Practices
A lot of times, our egos can get in our way, and it is understandable. When we talk about things such as our narratives, our desires, our authority issues, and our standards, we often get too attached, because we attach our identities to them.
Let’s take authority issues, for example. Every relationship has its own power dynamics: at work, we have employer-employee or boss-subordinate power issues; at home, there are power dynamics between husband and wife, parent and child, among siblings, and even between friends or peers.
“At work, we deal with a hierarchy that is manmade,” Chuck says, a hierarchy that he acknowledges as something crucial to making things happen and for decision-making. “But it’s a trap,” he continues, “because for every leader unaware of the power of their voice, they will make tons of mistakes.”
There are many leaders who think they have to have all the answers because we were trained in early childhood to have answers. “That’s what we raise our hands for in school—to get a gold star,” Chuck says. “In business, we raise our hands to have the answer, and we get the promotion,” he adds.
When we add standards to power dynamics, it becomes even messier.
At work, we must establish explicit standards that our employees or teams understand from the start: what we expect from them and what they can expect from us. “That way, it’s easier to hold people accountable in a fair-minded, kind way,” Chuck says.
At home, it is a little bit different. “As a parent,” Chuck shares, “as I was learning this new world of mine—the power of language—I became aware of how much my voice mattered to [my kids].”
Whether it is in marriage or in a friendly relationship, two people from different households, different backgrounds, and different cultures bring with them very different sets of standards, and sometimes the difference in standards added to the power dynamics in the relationship can cause friction—even if there’s no one at fault for the differences.
One way to distance ourselves from our standards is to call them “patterns” instead. “Patterns” are something we feel we can change, but our “standards” feel too close to home, to who we are as a person. By creating enough distance, we can get a more objective look at these “patterns" and recognize and investigate them.
Then we can decide whether to change them and adopt a new practice. Practice takes time, and there will be instances where you fail, but that is okay.
Because we recognized that our stories are not always true, we were able to effect change by identifying our patterns and developing a new practice. If we don’t believe our stories to be the truth, we open up space for us to say, “There must be another way to think about it.”
Trust your intuition
In the business world, there’s always been a divide in opinions between those who say, “Trust your gut,” and those who believe that one should “Never trust your gut. Do the work, do the research.” In this polarizing discourse about intuition in business decisions, Chuck believes it isn’t an either/or argument.
“I think what happened is that, over time, our left brain—our ‘intellectual, rational’ left brain—has been elevated for a long time,” he says. That isn’t to say it’s a criticism—this elevation of reason over intuition has helped our society come through the industrial revolution and has contributed to the leaps and bounds we’ve made in industries such as science and engineering.
“The trouble is that we left our right brain, which is our creative and more intuitive brain, in the dust,” Chuck adds. “So, my take is, we have to reacquaint the two.”
When it comes to creative conversations, there is tons of research that says our right and left brains work together: the right brain comes up with the creative idea, and the left brain works to process the idea and find logical solutions to make it happen. In a way, one can say that the left brain serves the right brain in terms of creation and innovation.
“You can come up with ideas that can’t be scientifically backed up too—it can come together. It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Chuck says. Just like Albert Einstein and his thought experiments in physics, where he explored what-if scenarios that are [still] impossible to prove scientifically—at least with the tech we have available.
In the work setting, business leaders need to create space where ideas and creativity can bubble up.
According to Chuck, we tend to be married to our ideas of what we think is right or the best solutions, and we are addicted to jumping into action and commitment. We bypass an important part of the process—the collaborative conversation, where we learn from each other and let new ideas pop up along the way—because we are in a hurry to jump to the decision: “Who does what by when?”
Some leaders believe that this is efficient because they don’t have time to do the other stuff, but Chuck reminds us that we lose more time by unmaking decisions that were not properly vetted or remaking poorly made decisions that have not explored all the other possibilities.
We need to learn how to slow down and empower our people to be active participants in the decision-making process. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers, which can be scary for some of us. In fact, because of the power of our voice and our position, we have to be the one that speaks last and shift from being “knowers” to "learners."
“That’s a trap that we fall into—that in order for us to be successful, we have to have the answer,” Chuck shares.
Our main responsibility is to make sure we understand the whole picture. Asking questions and listening to a diverse variety of opinions and ideas can help us expand the way we look at and think about a problem or situation.
“We’ve lost the art of asking questions,” Chuck says. His advice for leaders who want to grow their businesses and succeed is to fall in love with asking questions.
Follow Chuck Wisner
Buy the book, The Art of Conscious Conversations, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other leading bookstores nationwide.
DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.