Mastering the Art of Conversation

Mastering the Art of Conversation

We all know communication is key to successful collaboration at work. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Craig Weber, author of “Conversational Capacity” and founder of the Weber Consulting Group, joins us today to discuss his celebrated approach to work communication. We’ll cover the different communication styles people use and tools that leaders and employees alike can apply to foster effective collaboration, share ideas, respond to tough challenges and ultimately create better work.


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 Run Time: 29:52

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Brandon: Hey, welcome back for another episode of the “Human Resources for Small Business” podcast. As always, I’m your host, Brandon Laws, but today I’m going to step aside.

You may remember, a few episodes back, my colleague and fearless leader, Angela Perkins, played guest host and interviewed Daniel Harkavy, the author of “Living Forward”, which, I love that episode and I love that book even more. And she’s back today to interview Craig Weber, who’s the author of “Conversational Capacity” and also the founder of the Weber Consulting Group.

Craig has worked with leaders and teams from a few companies that you probably would recognize – Boeing, CDC, Clif Bar, Pfizer, NASA. He’s a very sought after consultant and speaker, and he’s got some awesome ideas.

Angela had a chance to see him speak at a Vistage international conference, where he’s actually won Speaker of the Year in 2012, and he’s won an equivalent recognition back in 2015 in Canada, in a division known as TEC. They crossed paths at Vistage; Angela was blown away by his content, especially around his book “Conversational Capacity.” She said, “Let’s bring him on the podcast.” And I said, “Hey, you take this. It’s all you on this one.”

Angela plays guest host today, so make sure to show her the love – reach out to her on LinkedIn. She’s there. Also, go to iTunes and give us a review, let us know how she did. And if you want to hear more of her, we’ll keep bringing her back if you love the work that she’s doing. So anyway, I will get out of the way, and enjoy the conversation between Angela Perkins and Craig Weber.



Angela: Craig, welcome to the show.

Craig: Angela, thank you for having me.

Angela: It’s great to have you today. We’re really excited for the discussion. As we’ve talked about, you are an author of a book called Conversational Capacity and the founder of the Weber Consulting Group. Really excited to have you today. You and I, we crossed paths in the Vistage world. So I was able to see you and spend an entire day with you, and after spending some time with you, I knew I just had to introduce you to our audience.conversational-capacity-book

Craig: Well, I appreciate that very much. Yeah, I’m glad to be here. So I look forward to the podcast.

Angela: Excellent. Well, let’s do this. Why don’t we start out with a little glossary and why don’t you define for the audience what is exactly conversational capacity and why do we care about it.

Craig: I will define it in a couple of ways actually. It will give us something to bounce around as we move forward. The simple definition would be what I would call the dictionary definition, and you could say “conversational capacity” refers to the ability to have open, balanced, learning, focused dialogue about difficult subjects and challenging circumstances and even across tough boundaries.

So you can see this really easily with a team – one with high conversational capacity, they can put their most painful, divisive, challenging issue on the table and do really good work around it. Where a team with low conversational capacity, a minor difference of opinion can mess things up.

So in this sense, it’s sort of a lynchpin competence. You can get all the other things right where you want them to be – strategy, staffing, everything right – but at the conversational capacity, if the team or a business is too low, given the issues they’re dealing with, it’s going to underperform.

Angela: Sure. Well, and you talked about this a little bit in your book where it’s a common phenomenon to have really smart, capable, individual contributors. You put them all in a room together and you expect explosive results. But somehow that team dynamic doesn’t come together and it really comes down to this, the ability to have meaningful conversations.

Craig: That’s well-framed actually. In fact that is a perfect segue to the second definition I would bring up and that is the sweet spot. There is a place in a conversation where you want people working and it’s that place you just described where you don’t just have smart people around the table. You’re able to get access to their smarts. And those are two very different things. I think all too often we focus on getting the right people on the bus, as Jim Collins would say. But then we don’t create an environment where we can get access to those smarts when we need them, which isn’t very smart, right?

Angela: Sure. When you’re having conversations and you find yourself with these varied opinions, so you have these smart people in the room, you can’t get access to their smarts, are we looking for agreement?

Craig: No, I think that’s – that’s a trap we often fall into. We feel like good teamwork centers around consensus and everyone agreeing and I don’t think that’s the right thing. I think learning should be the goal, not agreement.

So who’s making the decision? And then how do we help whoever is making the decision make it with their eyes wide open? Make the smartest choice they can make given the constraints – time, information, otherwise.

Then when you put agreement in the driver’s seat, things start getting squirrely pretty quickly, especially when people just aren’t going to agree. Then you’re kind of stuck.

Angela: When you experience – and maybe talk us through the different kinds of definitions of when you get stuck in that spot. You’re minimized. You’re winning. Maybe walk us through the definitions of those two pieces.

Craig: What holds us in the sweet spot is candor balanced with curiosity. The conversations are honest, open, forthright, very direct. But at the same time, what keeps all that candor from just overheating is it’s balanced with curiosity. People are inquisitive. They’re there to learn. When you have a different view than I do, I don’t get defensive or upset. I get interested. Wow, that’s interesting. I love my idea. Here’s Angela. She’s extremely smart. She has tons of experience and she hates my idea. That’s interesting. What is she picking up on that I’m missing?

So that’s what holds us in the sweet spot – that place where candor and curiosity are in balance. When we leave the sweet spot, one way or the other, it’s almost always because we’ve let go of one pole or the other. So you mentioned this need to minimize, that I talk about in my book and in my workshops, where what often happens is we trigger out of the sweet spot, not because we don’t have good intentions, but because of our need to play it safe, to be comfortable. To come across as likable and agreeable overwhelms our ability to be candid. I want to be speaking up at a meeting and I’m sitting there with a stupid grin on my face.


This need to minimize is grounded in the flight response and so it’s not a minor tendency. It’s amazing how quickly it can separate our actual behavior from our good intentions under pressure.

Angela: Where do you identify on this? And am I as a person one of the – do I land in one of these buckets or how does that kind of come out?

Craig: That’s a great question. We all do both and I will talk about the other tendency here in a minute. It’s not like we just do one or the other. So the question I often ask people to kind of entertain is under what circumstances in life, personally and professionally, do I find myself leaving the sweet spot and being less candid than I need to be under pressure? And where are those circumstances in life where I tend to go the other direction?

There’s this need to be right, this need to get your way, this need to sell your view to the group or as I call it, the need to win the conversation. When the need to be right gets triggered, curiosity tends to suffer. We drop curiosity like a hot potato and it’s just raw, unadulterated candor. We’re not listening. We’re arguing. We’re shutting people down. We’re dominating the discussion.

So we will all do both. The interesting question is, “When do you slip one way? When do you slip the other?” That said, we do tend to have a dominant tendency. I’m not doubt a dominant minimizer and so oftentimes it’s hard for me to give someone constructive feedback for example because I want to be nice. I want things to stay even-keeled. I don’t want to hurt feelings or look like a jerk. So I have to struggle against that sometimes to be as candid as I need to be, to be effective.

I see other people who grew up in situations where they’re wired the other direction. How about yourself?

Angela: I would resonate with a minimizer as well. So you actually – when we spent some time together, you said it so eloquently, Craig. You said some people just don’t want to be the jerk in the room, and I will sit with that. If I’m in an environment where my opinion is differing from everyone else, I just don’t want to either make the meeting longer or come off not agreeable. So I will sit on it for sure.

Craig: Right.

Angela: Some of the things that you talk about in the book, one thing in particular that really struck me is you have a statement that says senior leaders are stealing from the company when they don’t speak up and solve problems.

As a self-professed minimizer, I took that to heart. I was thinking, “Gosh, what am I leaving on the table, or not putting on the table, that really could be helping the company?” So that was a huge “ah-ha” moment for me. But as a minimizer, how do you really take that and put that into action? So this is what you do in your consulting business is you help teams – leadership, senior leadership teams – develop ways to get to that sweet spot more often. As a minimizer, what are some of the tools and tricks that you give to folks like me that would much rather kind of let things go versus cause trouble or issues?

Craig: Yeah, well-said. Yeah. I think the first thing is awareness. How do we get better at recognizing when we’re at risk of leaving the sweet spot? So we’re better able to stay there and if we do leave it, we catch it quickly and can get back. So I spend a lot of time getting people in touch with the situations where they tend to minimize, or they tend to win, and how that’s getting in the way of their effectiveness. I actually encourage people to keep a trigger journal. Start actually noticing situations in life where your behavior and your good intentions are just in different places.

But awareness only gets us so far. So I actually help people develop a discipline, what I refer to as a conversational martial arts, for staying in that sweet spot in a much more disciplined way. There’s both a mindset and a skillset.

Just really quickly, the mindset is about learning. I need to be genuinely more interested in learning, getting smarter and thinking more clearly about an issue than in being comfortable or being right. So I’m not just recognizing my need to minimize or my need to win. Under pressure, I’m actually learning to kick them to the curb in the pursuit of learning.

Angela: Yeah, that’s a really great point.

Craig: Yeah, that’s what has really got to be more important to me, or else I’m just in the conversation really to stroke my own ego, rather than to stoke learning. So I think learning to really focus on learning is key. I help people develop skills for making that mindset where we’re leaning into difference, we’re pooling differing perspectives to expand how we’re thinking about the issue. There are a couple of candor skills and a couple of curiosity skills I help people learn.

The candor skills you could say are the antidote for the minimizing dynamics. So if I’m in a meeting and I suddenly notice, “Uh-oh, there’s my need to minimize kicking into gear,” and I can feel myself starting to shut down or water down my point or acquiesce to a dominant view in the meeting, the candor skills are the behaviors I would use to keep that from compromising my effectiveness.

Then the curiosity skills have the same purpose with the win tendency. If I notice myself starting to overheat in a meeting or getting a little argumentative or a little too big for my britches, the curiosity skills are the behaviors I would use to kind of put that mindset to use and keep my candor and curiosity in balance.

Angela: So what are like a couple of the candor skills that you would list off, or development tools that you would put in play?

Craig: There are two candor skills. They’re fairly straightforward. So they seem fairly easy almost. But under pressure, you would be surprised how hard they are when your need to minimize is getting in the way. The first skill is you state where you’re at on the issue in one sentence or no more than two. So I call that “stating your position.”

Now what I mean by position, it’s where you’re at on the topic being discussed, your views, your ideas, your concerns, your suggestion. If you think we should hold off on a strategy for six months, you would say, “I think we should hold off on implementing this strategy for at least six months.” It’s in one sentence. You let people know where you’re at on the issue.

It could even be a feeling where you say, “I’ve got to be honest. This decision scares me.” If you have a strong win tendency, stating where you’re at on an issue is no big deal. You’re pretty good at it. But if your minimizing tendencies are being triggered, that’s a tough skill to master.

Angela: Because normally, the gut reaction is to soften or therefore put a paragraph around what you really want to say, right?

Craig: Exactly. Yeah, I can put a paragraph around it. That’s exactly right. Or I can water it down. “I’m wondering if maybe there’s another way we might consider doing this, perhaps.” Rather than coming out and saying, “I think there’s a better way to go here.”

So that’s exactly right. The tendency is to water it down, to cover it up or to pack it, like you say, with a paragraph to soften the blow. What you really want to do is state it in one sentence, no more than two. I liken it to a topic sentence and good paragraph construction, right? Just boom, it’s a quick, clean, tight synopsis of where you’re about to go.

The second skill is like long division homework in elementary school – your teacher never allowed you to just bring in the answers. Your teacher forced you to bring in your homework. You had to actually show how you got your answer. You had to show your work.

So in the second of the candor skills, you’re expected to show the thinking behind your position. Here’s what I think you’re saying, in essence, and here’s why I think it. You’re kind of laying out your cognitive roadmap, which includes what evidence you might have for the issue or the point of view you hold, but also the assumptions you’re making, what you think the data is suggesting.

So those are the two candor skills.

Angela: And then obviously, the next obvious question, the curiosity skills.

Craig: And this next one, as you know, when we talked here awhile back, it was kind of the most important skill. I think if learning is most important and we’re trying to expand it and improve our thinking because learning is important, this next skill is important for a couple of reasons. One, it’s the most unusual behavior. Two, it counters the way the brain naturally works. The brain – we’re all kind of plagued with the confirmation bias, which is the tendency of the brain, once we’ve adopted a perspective, to immediately begin looking for information that will support that view and to begin dismissing, discounting or even completely ignoring information that contradicts it.

So we tend to get stuck in a perspective. This is an anti-confirmation bias. Once we put out our view and then we’ve explained our view, we do something unusual and we test it. We actually invite people to help us find fault with it. We don’t sit back and passively hope that someone might share a concern about our thinking. We actually invite them and encourage them to challenge us.

There are some casual tests, like what do you think? Or what’s your reaction to what I’ve just said? Who has a different view? Sometimes our testing needs to be more vigorous, especially if we’re in a position of authority where people may be very nervous about challenging us. So I watched an executive recently put a view on the table, kind of explain his take on the issue and then said, “Look, I know I’m hard to push back on here. So break into pairs and for 15 minutes talk about this. In 15 minutes I want from each pair one thing you like about what I’ve suggested and most importantly, I want two things you don’t.”

So really working hard to pull concerns, disparate perspectives, better ways perhaps of looking at the issue, into the conversation. So a good test signal is an openness to disconfirming views.

Angela: That’s great. Again, it doesn’t always come intuitively, particularly to that leader who has been more of a dictatorial leader perhaps, someone that has kind of made all of the decisions on their own. So for those folks, it’s harder – not even in practice, but really to get a response in a way that you’re looking for your team to – you’re inviting your team for the feedback. But they’re not used to being asked for it.

Craig: That’s right. Yeah, well-said. And sometimes even asking them for it – they still can’t muster the ability to speak candidly. Nothing lowers conversational capacity more predictably than the presence of authority. So if we’re in an authority role, we need to work very hard to pull information up into our role because it doesn’t flow there naturally. And really good, authentic strong testing is a key to that.

Angela: Well, it’s interesting. So obviously this topic is so important for our listeners. As you know, this podcast is dedicated primarily to small business leaders and HR professionals. So what advice or suggestion would you give to a small business leader who’s leading a senior team and maybe they aren’t getting the results out of that team that they thought they could or should be getting? And then flip it over to the HR department? What impact can the HR team have on their company if they recognize some conversational breakdown in terms of capacity and ability to stay in that sweet spot?

Craig: I think from a leadership perspective, I think conversational capacity is sort of an underappreciated aspect of really competent leadership. Bob Keegan once said that, “Any organization is a community of discourse. Leadership is about shaping the nature of the discourse.”

So what I really help leaders learn to do is – how do you pay more attention? It’s not just whether you have the right people around the table, but do the behaviors in the team help or hinder the team’s ability to bring their best thinking to your issues, to your decisions, to your challenges, to your strategy, to your changes? How do you use the frameworks – you know, candor and curiosity, the skills – to start noticing how are people participating here and how might I help them engage these issues in a more constructive way? I use the quote from Airto Moreira, a Brazilian jazz percussionist who once said about playing improvisational jazz, “I listened to what’s being played and then I play what’s missing.” I think that’s a great way to think about leadership. How do I shape the conversations in my team or in my business so they’re more healthy, more constructive and more balanced and do that by watching what’s being played and playing what’s missing. Is there not enough candor in this meeting? What can I do to ratchet it up a notch or two? Or perhaps the problem is not enough curiosity and people are just locking horns and arguing, what can I do to slow down the conversation and then get the people focused back on the problem?

Angela: A lot of times as I was reading your book, particularly after we spent the day off-site together, and I was reflecting on our conversations as a team and then diving deeper into the concepts in the book; so much of this comes down to perspective. If a team values difference because they know they can learn more from difference than sameness, then this idea of conflict is actually welcomed– it’s not a bad word. And I mean even here at Xenium we have courses on conflict resolution and how to have healthy conflict in an organization, but it’s a negative. People come because they have problems with their manager, with their subordinates or peers and they want to fix this conflict. But at the end of the day, conflict is kind of a good thing. In your world, you see it as a positive learning opportunity.

Craig: Yeah, well said. I think a way to frame it perhaps is that conflict is neutral. There’s going to be conflicting perspectives, conflicting personalities, you name it. Conversational capacity determines whether it’s a strength or a weakness. If conversational capacity is low in a relationship or a team then our conflicting perspectives are a barrier to good work. If, like you said, our conversational capacity is high, the conflicting perspectives are actually something useful. We know how to leverage them for learning. We can think in a more nimble, agile, flexible way about a tough problem because we know how to harness the conflict and use it to spark good learning. And so, I think the conversational capacity in many ways is a make or break variable in terms of how well a team deals with conflict. It’s either going to tear the team apart or it’s going to build the team up, depending on how they use it.

Angela: How does ego play into all of this, Craig, in terms of working with leaders that you’ve seen play inside the team work? Where does ego play? And how do you manage that?

Craig: I mentioned earlier that I refer to this, the conversational capacity, as a discipline or a conversational martial art, but it’s not a martial art where we’re using these skills against other people. So, if you and I are in a meeting and we’re both trying to work in the sweet spot, you are not my opponent in this discipline. You’re just the person I’m talking to. My opponent isn’t even the issue you and I are trying to deal with or the decision we’re trying to make.

In this conversational martial art, if I want to stay focused on learning and stay in the sweet spot, my opponent is my ego. And I need to be genuinely more interested in learning, getting smarter and thinking clearly than getting an ego massage. And for some people, their ego massage is staying comfortable and keeping things on an even keel. For other people, their ego massage is being right, selling their view, dominating the conversation. So we need to learn to recognize those two more ego satisfying reactions and stay focused on learning and balance, candor and curiosity in the process. So, I’ll often tell leaders, if you want to be a better leader and you want to run a better business, you’re going to have to become a better human being – less driven by the base impulses, or emotional reactions and more driven by the better angels of our nature.

Angela: I think we’ve all had those conversations that hurt. The words may not be the problem right? So the words coming out of the person you’re having this conversation with are not the issue. They may even be right, so to speak. But it’s the way in which it was delivered that pisses us off.

Craig: Yeah.

Angela: So, I love your wrapping paper example. You said, “Don’t dismiss opinions or positions just because of delivery just like you wouldn’t refrain from opening a gift just because it was wrapped in ugly wrapping paper.” Love that. I mean I think about that sometimes to say the point that this person is making is a good one. I don’t love it. It doesn’t make me feel great how it was delivered to me. But I would always unwrap a gift…

Craig: Right.

Angela: …that was given to me in funny papers or given to me in polka dots that didn’t match, I would still unwrap that gift. So really approaching every conversation that way has been a help to me, even just anecdotally walking through my day, after reading your book.

Craig: Oh, I’m pleased to hear that. Yeah, I found routinely in life that I’ve fallen into that trap where I dismiss a perspective simply because I don’t like the way it’s being delivered. Which is, again, like not opening a birthday present because you don’t like the wrapping paper. You’d never do that. It’s never about the wrapping paper. So, I think if you can develop the discipline to let the behavior go and stay focused on learning, and what might I learn from this perspective? They’re upset, they’re clearly not handling their point well, but that doesn’t mean the point they’re trying to make doesn’t have some usefulness. So, let me get past their behavior and focus on “what’s the message that they’re trying to deliver here?” That’s a better approach but surprisingly hard to do.

Angela: You’re a great story-teller and I want to invite the audience to hear just one of your more proud moments as a consultant and working through this model with some of your clients. Pick a story, pick something that has happened that kind of puts your head down at night to say, “I am doing good work because I just saw this model come to play for this company.” You don’t have to use names if you don’t want to, but I know you have a lot of those. A lot of these things come to life for you. Put this into action inside of a story for the listeners.

Craig: OK. I’ll share one. I think you might remember this from the off-site I spoke at. But I love this and it’s a great example of someone who is learning to reign in their ego and to behave in a very different way, to try to help their people think more intelligently together. And this was an engineering leader in Silicon Valley who heard a presentation I made and loved the idea of testing. He said, “I’ve got a lot of smart engineers around the table but I don’t have access to any of their smarts. If I’m really honest with you, my weekly meetings are really little more than me holding court.” So he went back to his executive team meetings, very excited to get his engineers to engage and begin testing – What do you think? What’s your reaction to this? Where are you at on this? And he got nowhere.

He said, “It was very disappointing. I went out all excited and when I began testing, I found it didn’t work. I didn’t get anything from my team.” So I asked him, “Well, what did you do?” He said, “Well, my COO had heard you speak as well, so I invited him into my office and I said, ‘look, you see me testing, I’m trying to engage with you, why is it not working?’” So he kind of put his COO on the spot there. And fortunately, the COO rose to the occasion and said, “OK, well, if you’re interested, I think there are three things about you that almost guarantee your engineers aren’t going to challenge you publicly in a meeting.” He said, “What are they?”

And he said, “Here’s a big one – your name is on the building; you own the thing. It’s your company. That makes you a more daunting character. Two, you have a degree in engineering from MIT. You’re extremely bright technically, which makes you a little more challenging to go up against. And,” he says, “those aren’t even the big ones.” He says, “Here’s the last, here’s the big one. This is the coup de gras,” he said. “You have a really aggressive win tendency, you don’t like to be wrong and everybody knows it. And you put those three things together, you’re a daunting character.”

And so I asked the CEO, “Well, what did you do with that information?” He said, “That kept me awake at night. That was some of the hardest feedback I’ve ever received. And I decided after a lot of thought, I would use training wheels.” And I said, “What does that mean?” And he said, “I went back to my next staff meeting intentionally with a big decision and I put it out there in front of the engineers, I kind of described my thinking and laid up a little bit of information. And then I said, before I make this decision, I want to make sure I get a lot of really robust input from this team. There are a lot of smart people around the table. To do that, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave the room for 30 minutes and when I come back in half an hour, I’d like at least three concerns about what I’ve just suggested on a flip chart. And I got up and left.”

And he gave his engineers 30 minutes in his absence to wrestle with the issues, get their concerns out in the open. I like that flip chart idea – it’s a little safer, a little more neutral territory. And then when he came in, he sat at the far end of the table. He pulled out a pad of paper and said, “What did you come up with?” And he said, “I listened. I took notes. I asked questions. I could not believe how much information I got out of that.” He says, “It was stunning.” He says, “My first thought was damn it, is this what I’ve been missing? This is outstanding!” And so…

Angela: Right.

Craig: So what he began doing, to make the long story short, is doing that regularly with his meetings. When something significant was being addressed, he made sure he gave his team time and his absence to get their ideas, their concerns, their counter examples, on the table. He said it was working like a charm until one day something funny happened. He said, I got up to leave the meeting and one of my engineers said out loud, “Look, we talked about this as a team. You don’t need to leave the room.”

And so, that’s a great example of culture change, someone watching what’s being played, and playing what’s missing. Someone taking responsibility, trying to shape the conversations in a more constructive direction. But it wasn’t like he just tested it once or twice and they believed it. It had to be a pattern over time where they began to realize his mindset, not just his behavior, was changing. So I just love that example as someone really working hard to exercise effective leadership by making sure they’ve got a climate where their smart people can bring their smarts to the team.

Angela: Right. And his true win, while it was in all those great ideas that his team was finally now providing, but the great win was when he was invited to stay.

Craig: That’s right.

Angela: Because that means they trusted his ability to take that feedback from their mouths not just a flip chart, and he earns trust there. It actually begs the question how do you engage the naysayers when you are managing an issue or a decision and you obviously aren’t looking always for agreement. You’re always going to have folks that are like, “I don’t think this is the way we ought to be going.”

Craig: Right.

Angela: How do you keep those folks engaged? They’re still in a senior leadership team. They’re still– they may even have work, bodies of work to do based on decisions that are being made that they are not necessarily all onboard with. What do you do to keep those naysayers engaged and feeling part of the team, even then their decision wasn’t picked?

Craig: Yeah, great question because that’s actually– if we’re not going to focus on agreement, then we better figure out how to deal with disagreement. I think three things are relevant there. One, the research shows that to have commitment to a decision, agreement is not the key factor. It turns out if you want people to be committed to a decision, you need two things. One, is people need to feel the process was fair. They have to say OK, I like the way the decision was made. I might say, “You know what? I don’t agree with the decision Angela made, but I like the way she made it.”

Secondly, people need to feel they were heard. And if people feel heard and they trust or like the process by which a decision was reached – you’ll often see people say, “I don’t agree with that decision but I can get behind you. I see why you’re going in that direction and not the one I suggested. OK, what do you want me to do?”

The last thing is when you’re implementing a decision, having a naysayer on the team isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having someone who’s a little more critical about it – not in a destructive way, “I told you so” – but in a constructive way, “Hey, remember that red flag I was concerned about? I think we’ve got an issue here.” They can often help you figure out when it’s time to make some adjustments, to make some tweaks.

And I use the example of sailing. You don’t just sail in a straight line to a point, you actually tack and move back and forth along the way, using the wind. I think a lot of times in decision making, it’s not a straight line from make the decision, execute, and it’s a straight line to success. There’s a lot of tacking and adjusting along the way. As my friend Frank Barrett says, “You kind of learn as you go.” Having those more critical minds on the team are really useful if that’s the goal. How do we get better at recognizing when we may need to make some adjustments to our decision so it kind of fits the reality we’re up against?

So, make sure the process is fair, show people also how what they’ve contributed to your decision so you might say, “Listen, I’m not going to choose what you suggested Angela but let me tell you two things about what you brought to the table that really influenced the way I’m making the decision. I’m now looking at two risks I never would have seen if you hadn’t chimed in. So, just because I’m not choosing what you suggested, don’t think you didn’t add value here. That was extremely helpful.” If you can show people how they contributed, you’ll often see them roll up their sleeves and get busy.

Angela: So, if we’ve got listeners in their car, they’re a part of a senior leadership team, but no one else is hearing all of this messaging that we’re talking about. Stopping short of going to Amazon and buying your book right now and putting it on their President’s desk, what are other ways individuals can actually influence their teams with this model? And what tools would you place in an individual’s hand?

Craig: Yeah. I think you know what’s nice about these skills is that they aren’t dependent on everyone in the room knowing the skills for them to work. A single person in a meeting who is familiar with the basic skills can have a profound impact on the way that meeting unfolds. And so, even if you’re not going to share these ideas with the broader team or you don’t think the team may listen, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn some of these skills and begin making a very constructive difference in your own right.

And so, the book obviously provides an overview of this and goes into a lot more depth. The first five chapters really talk about conversational capacity, what blocks it – that need to minimize, that need to win – with some fairly scary examples. And then there are chapters on the mindset, the skills so there’s a lot of practical advice in there. So that might be a way to start.

Angela: Other resources you have for folks, Craig. Where do you send people? Articles, podcasts, that sort of thing?

Craig: Yeah, on my website, I have a page that has a lot of articles around this stuff. Things like how to instill trust in your team. I have a popular article called Leaning into Difference – The Key to Solving Tough Problems, which kind of gets into that mindset. How do we put learning in the driver’s seat and make it more important than feeling comfortable or being right? And so, the website has got a lot of options. I’m in the process of working with my son, and we’ve set up a studio and we’re going to start putting up a lot of YouTube content. So a lot of free material, that will frame some of the basic concepts – give examples, answer questions, interviews with other thought leaders – so that’s in the works, as well. So, by the end of the summer we should have that up and running and ready to roll.

Angela: Excellent. And your website address?

Craig: It is

Angela: All right. Well, thanks so much for being with us today. I’m sure you’ve added a ton of value and at least been able to connect with folks that are saying, “Yes! That happens to me!” And now, they’ll have a resource to help influence their team. So, I’m excited about that.

Craig: I certainly hope so. I’ve said that the world needs people who are going to roll up their sleeves and just try to help people engage problems in a more healthy and constructive way. So I certainly hope some of your audience members find this useful, and maybe decide to go out there and have a conversation they have been thinking about having, or have perhaps been avoiding, or maybe they’ve had the conversation but they haven’t been having it as constructively as they would like. So, I certainly hope this is helpful. And I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk.

Angela: You bet. You bet. You’re doing great work. So keep doing it. And we look forward to seeing the rest of your content coming out to your website soon.

Craig: Thank you so much.

Brandon Laws

As Director of Marketing, Brandon Laws leads all marketing efforts for Xenium, providing oversight on all marketing campaigns, digital marketing strategy, events, sponsorships and public relations. Brandon brings a positive energy to every aspect of his role at Xenium—from internal initiatives around culture and wellness to industry thought leadership through the Xenium podcast and other social efforts. Active within the HR community, he currently volunteers on the board of the Portland Human Resource Management Association as the Director of Marketing & PR.

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