Boost Your Conversational Intelligence and Your Leadership

We are literally hard-wired to connect with others.

In her book Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, consultant Judith Glaser explains the physiological and chemical science behind conversations and how we can leverage this for more effective interactions. Drawing from Judith Glaser’s work and my own experiences, here is some key info and tips for leveraging Conversational Intelligence to lead and collaborate well in the workplace.

What you need to know about Conversational Intelligence

Our brains change – physiologically and chemically – depending on how we interact with others.

In conversations that foster trust, transparency, understanding, empathy, connection and a shared vision of success, we access and build higher-level brain functioning. The pre-frontal cortex is activated, and mood-boosting chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin are released. Synapse networks develop. This all paves the way for stronger abilities to listen, empathize, connect, encourage, inspire, learn and innovate.

When we interact in ways that trigger distrust, fear, power plays, uncertainty and defensiveness, we operate in the lower-level part of the brain – the amygdala. Chemicals such as cortisol are released that can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. We kick into survival mode and focus on self-protection, and our people skills and creative problem-solving abilities are limited.

Do more of this …

Here are some conversationally intelligent reminders on how to establish greater trust, connection, openness, learning and innovation:

  • Include people. Share key information. Invite them to give input in an important decision. Ask them to lunch.
  • Express appreciation. Thank people. “Catch them doing good.” Recognize someone’s contribution. Celebrate.
  • Be curious. Ask questions for which you don’t know the answers. Be interested and open to others and their opinions.
  • Listen to connect. Listening to gather info, problem-solve, understand or empathize is good. But do you listen with the intent to connect?

Do less of this …

Avoid these behaviors which tend to put people in a distrustful, defensive, closed-minded state:

  • Criticize. When you need to give corrective or constructive feedback, consider how you can positively communicate in a way that will encourage rather than discourage. This will not only build the relationship but make it more likely they will receive the feedback and take ownership for improving performance.
  • Dictate. There are times to tell people what to do, but this is a technique to use sparingly if you want to build positive connections. Asking, collaborating and guiding are more likely to develop, motivate and encourage creativity.
  • Intimidate. Scaring people to do things may work in the short-term, but it hurts trust and hinders people’s ability to do their best work – not to mention your relationship with them.

Conversational Intelligence is about being smart and intentional in connecting with others effectively. Skills in this area can be improved and can help individuals, colleagues, teams and organizations be more successful and fulfilled.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps executives and their teams focus on achieving meaningful results and effective relationships. Contact him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.