I have two questions for our readers —  First: How satisfied are you with the overall quality of conversations you have? Second: What can you do to make your conversations more productive?  Nine out of 10 conversations miss the mark, we talk past each other, we talk over each other, we trigger each other, then we stop listening.

Why? The answer may be shown in this encounter: as I worked in my back yard yesterday, a garden snake slithered out beneath my feet. In principle, I like snakes, but in less than a nanosecond, my nervous system leapt into the air, and ran screaming, bringing me with it. That snake wasn’t trying to trigger me, but he (or she) did. I don’t know about you, but conversations often take on that quality of nerve-ending, gut tweaking SURPRISE. As for conversations that truly matter? I think I’ve found an alternative response to the work-world version of snakes slithering in the grass and triggering the  #$*!$# out of us.

What Exactly Is Conversational Intelligence?

It is a deeper understanding that conversations are not only the exchange of information. Conversations keep us connected with others and enable us to successfully navigate our ‘inner and outer’ realities together.

  • • Conversations are multi-dimensional experiences
  • • Conversations share space, time, dimensions, influence ripples
  • • Conversations activate our next generation DNA

“The crux of Conversational Intelligence is knowing that the words we use, and how we use them, have a direct impact on the brain neurochemistry of the people who hear what we say. This is real power, and those who understand the incredible influence of words are able to use them more effectively to lead, sway, and impact other people.”  – Oliver DeMille, educator and author

 Are there Cliff Notes? Yes, these take the form of LAPS, and here they are:

L – Listen to Connect, Not Reject
A – Ask More Questions For Which You Have No Answers
P – Prime Conversations for Mutual Success
S – Sustained Conversational Agility (we need to approach this as a long-distance sport in which we take multiple laps)

How Will Conversational Intelligence Help You?

Understanding how using different words and communication styles impact the brain chemistry, aka, the hard-wiring and receptiveness of the people you work with, will help you build Conversational Agility which Glaser describes as the ability to navigate at will, or toggle, between the three levels of Conversational Intelligence.

Conversational Agility is a secret power within your grasp.  It enables you to toggle at will between the three innate levels:

Level I – Confirming What We Know,  Asking & Telling
Level II – Defending What We Know, Advocating & Inquiring
Level III – Discovering What We Know, Sharing & Discovering

Level III is where the real rewards come in.  When you can toggle between, you can, at will:

  • • Build trust
  • • Overcome resistance
  • • Get people to listen
  • • Push back effectively
  • • Catalyze new thoughts
  • • Change people’s minds
  • • Shift from I to WE
  • • Activate energy, passion and accountability

 “This is the highest level of Conversational Intelligence, where a person understands how the brain and words work so well that he or she can use words with agility—to drastically empower, uplift, motivate, and serve people.” – Oliver DeMille

Level III conversations enable moving:

1- from fear to Co-Creating
2- from power (and politics) to genuine Relationship Building
3- from uncertainty to Understanding
4- from a need to be right to Mapping Shared Success
5- from groupthink to Group Cohesion and Partnering

In closing, I think Conversational Intelligence has implications well beyond the boardroom and the classroom.

I read and like to quote author and columnist Tom Friedman who has been openly frustrated about American politics, and wrote int the New York Times, “It’s easy to be depressed about America these days.” Fortunately, for our future, and our sense of what’s possible, Friedman provides the point-counterpoint argument: “There is another, still ‘exceptional’, American reality out there.”

Friedman reminds us that ‘exceptional’ is best found at the research centers of global American companies and inside our institutions of higher education.These centers are places where scientists and engineers from dozens of nationalities are using collaboration and crowd-sourcing to push out the boundaries of medical, manufacturing and material sciences, and more. Friedman shares with us a powerful description of what he sees in US R&D labs: “Where possibilities seem infinite, where optimal is the norm, and where every day begins by people asking: “What world are we living in, and how do we thrive in that world?”

How do we thrive in the world? After decades of my own collaborative research on human intelligence, I am convinced that Conversational Intelligence holds keys to the how we can thrive – one trusting conversation at a time.

Editor's note: for a deeper dive into Judith Glaser's work, see Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results


Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Chairman of The Creating WE Institute, an Organizational Anthropologist, consultant to Fortune 500 Companies, and author of four best-selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. You can e-mail her at