Eileen’s Outlook: Using the Conversation Staircase for Effective and Meaningful Dialogue

In my role as Director of the LLC Academy, I often need to remind myself of the incredible things I personally have learned through our vast array of wonderful programmes. There is a tendency to revert to old habits, especially when we are faced with difficult or unfamiliar situations, such as a conversation we are avoiding or for which we feel unprepared. It is all too easy to fall back into our old behaviours, which is why we focus so extensively on educational models that address effective communication at every level. 

One of the communication models we like to work with is the Conversation Staircase. This is a way to structure conversations with your staff, your peers, and your managers that is particularly beneficial when tackling problem solving, as it is aimed at encouraging you to develop a deeper and better understanding before jumping ahead into solution mode. 

There are 3 parts to having effective and meaningful dialogue using the Conversation Staircase: Conversation for Relationship; Conversation for Possibility; and Conversation for Action. Typically, most of us often find ourselves spending the most time on and feeling most comfortable with the Conversation for Action – after all, in a work environment it can often be our default behaviour! However, we’ve called it a staircase for a reason, and it’s important to approach this step by step. 

Firstly, you need to develop your capacity to have a focused, meaningful Conversation for Relationship. Your objective here is to build understanding, which can be done by building rapport and creating links, confirming the commitment of each person in the conversation, and engaging in the conversation to achieve clarity. This can include setting expectations and desired outcomes, understanding what barriers there are to success, and establishing a shared understanding. 

The overall purpose of the Conversation for Relationship is to conduct a detailed needs analysis. If you don’t truly understand the situation or challenge, if you do not have all the facts, if you have not engaged the other person in open dialogue from a place of curiosity, then the chances are slim that your solution is the right one! Bear in mind that you are seeking more information so that you can understand the issues and possible barriers your conversation partner may have.  

To be able to conduct a Conversation for Relationship effectively, you need to develop your skills and ability to ask questions that generate awareness and responsibility; encourage enquiry and discovery; create clarity; challenge assumptions; change perspective; and move the person to take action. In addition, you need to develop your capacity to listen wholly – giving all your focus and attention, listening with empathy, and resisting the temptation to interject, interrupt or jump straight ahead to a solution. 

Second is the Conversation for Possibility, which is about exploring your potential options, such as working towards a shared goal, and how to surmount possible obstacles. This part of the conversation staircase is about summarising, brainstorming, and generating possibilities and solutions. 

The final part of the Conversation Staircase is the Conversation for Action. This is where the next steps and the way forward are agreed upon, and is characterised by agreeing on actions, offering support, and basically wrapping up. I encourage you to try this approach for yourself – I think you will be astounded by its effectiveness.  

If you want to know more about the programmes on offer at The LLC Academy, speak to our experts. We are more than happy to help you and your staff reach your full potential! 

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