Guest Blog: Conversations In The Workplace



Most days, the Postlethwaite offices abound with conversation: banter between colleagues, discussion of technical points, knowledge sharing, phone calls with clients.  So when Claire James of Pivotal Moment suggested writing a guest blog about the importance of conversations in the workplace, we were intrigued.  And being employee ownership fans (and an employee owned business ourselves), we wanted to understand how the conversations in organisations where employees are also co-owners might differ from those in other workplaces.  Read on to find out….

Have you ever had a conversation that’s left you feeling frustrated and unable to respond appropriately and then spent hours ruminating on what you might have said differently to get your point across, or ‘fight your corner’?

Or maybe you’ve spent a meeting feeling ‘less than’, judged or excluded due to the conversations around the table…and therefore felt unable to make a valuable contribution to a project or an important decision?

If so, you are not alone. So what is happening in our brains to rob us of our faculties in the moment, and plunge us into introspection or a sense of ‘unworthiness’ for some time thereafter?

Well, we’re discovering that our conversations are chemical…And that the chemical cocktail produced in our brains effects our ability to think effectively, make decisions, connect with others, and to be creative, productive and resilient.  This chemical ‘soup’ is also integral to how we perceive our personal and positional power; our sense of autonomy and our place in the ‘hierarchy’.

At its worst, new evidence shows that the effects of a prolonged ‘high stress, low trust, cocktail’, not only incapacitate our best thinking, but can alter how our genes behave.  These altered genes may then even pass to the next generation, negatively impacting our as-yet-unborn children’s resilience to stress and anxiety.

This is a salutary consideration for an employer as it begs questions in relation to an organisation’s ‘Vicarious Liability’ for employees; can a ‘dysfunctional’ manager/leader negatively impact the lives of the unborn children of those whom she or he leads?  That’s what the science seems to be indicating. And if you allow this to happen, how might you and/ or your organisation be considered liable?

Our conversations therefore have enormous importance. They are at the heart of who we are, how we connect and how we perform. They determine whether our neural resources are available to do the work we’re being paid to do and they form the very fabric of the leadership and ownership culture of an organisation.

According to Judith F. Glaser, author of several books on Conversational Intelligence™, a body of work dedicated to moving organisations from ‘Power-over’ to ‘Power-with’ cultures; “Getting to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our cultures, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations.  Everything begins with conversations.”

Judith has identified 7 kinds of conversation and behaviours that move an organisation’s culture from ‘I-Centric’ to ‘We-centric’, from ‘Power-over’ to ‘Power-with’, whatever the ownership and/or hierarchical structure in place.  For the employee-owned business, where a team ethos tends to be more prevalent, this cultural style is a natural fit, so we would expect such organisations to experience more of these conversations and behaviours than the average business.  This is what Judith identified:


How is the conversation different?
What are the results?
From ‘Excluding’ to ‘Including’
Establishing a ‘We-centric’, ‘Power-with’ Workplace
From ‘Judging’ to ‘Appreciating’
Building partnerships
From ‘Limiting Aspiration’ to ‘Expanding Aspiration’
Focusing on aspiration
From ‘Withholding’ to ‘Sharing’
Harvesting Wisdom
From ‘Knowing Mindset’ to ‘Discovery Mindset’
Fostering Innovation
From ‘Dictating’ to ‘Developing’
Developing a leadership voice in all
From ‘Criticising’ to ‘Celebrating’
Releasing positive energy and neural resources

Why not take a few moments to run through this list, and consider how the conversations in your own organisation either foster, or inhibit these approaches and practices and what kind of culture they are therefore creating for you.  Conversations cost little, but their impact will determine both how productive you are and the quality of everything that you and your organisation do.

Claire James is Managing Director of Pivotal Moment, which specialises in ‘Interactional Intelligence’ for leaders and organisations. She is accredited to bring the highly practical and accessible frameworks and tools of Conversational Intelligence™ into organisations.  If you’d like to know more, please contact Claire on 0203 239 1334 or by email at

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