Conversational Intelligence Closes the Gap Between Intent and Impact

A large part of our success in relationships in life and work depends on the impact we have on those around us.

Building conversational intelligence* can help ensure our intent matches our impact.

Here are a couple of tips and stories from people that I have witnessed lately who have effectively demonstrated conversational intelligence:

#1 – Up-regulate and down-regulate brain chemistry.*

A team member received a scathing and accusatory message from a colleague that was based on assumptions and inaccurate information. He was surprised, disappointed, angry and anxious. Yet, if possible, he wanted to work out a solution while preserving his reputation and the relationship. To do this, he knew he needed to manage his reaction.

So despite the unjustified attack, he resisted the urge to retaliate. He called to discuss the matter live and listened first. He displayed a genuine effort to understand, along with a commitment to be direct and assertive yet positive and respectful. His efforts were successful.

Knowing how tense this situation was and knowing what was going on in the brain during the conversation helped him ‘up-regulate’. In other words, he shifted the interaction to be more open, trusting, collaborative, respectful, caring and curious. In this type of positive conversation where people feel safe and valued, certain ‘feel-good’ chemicals are released and higher-level communication and innovation is accessed.

At the same time, he was able to ‘down-regulate’ or de-escalate other chemicals that are released in a conversation that is fear-based, closed, distrustful, combative and intimidating. He knew this type of conversation accesses a different part of the brain where the focus is on self-protection and where relationship skills and creativity are limited.

#2 – Help others be successful to be successful yourself.

A senior technology leader took a new role. While intending to quickly establish himself with his new colleagues as a respected expert, he unfortunately stepped on some toes and rubbed them the wrong way. As a result, this super smart and experienced executive’s reputation was tarnished, and his opportunities for promotion and the best assignments were fading.

Through the encouragement and challenge of an internal mentor and an executive coach, this person went through a 360-degree leadership assessment where he was able to better understand what he was doing that was leading to his unintended impact. And he received suggestions for how he could change his behavior to lead to a more positive outcome.

He shifted from a defensive and fear-based approach where he was focused on proving himself to a posture of collaboration, service and humble confidence. He took deliberate steps to have positive and collaborative conversations with key people. He focused more on communicating that he valued and appreciated them and their contributions instead of being overly concerned about proving his own value. He began closing the gap between his intent and his impact. And his success skyrocketed.

Conversational intelligence helped close the gap between intent and impact for these people in a way that paid dividends. And it can pay off for you.


*Thanks to Judith Glaser for her C-IQ training course for coaches and her book: Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. For more information about the brain science behind Conversational Intelligence, see Judith’s book or see this brief article.

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