We’ve all been there. In the midst of a productive conversation with a colleague, something unexpected happens. It might be an awkward phrase or an unintended tone of voice, or maybe someone simply says something we don’t want to hear. Suddenly the conversation has veered off course and one or both of us now feels disregarded, disrespected, or just plain angry.
It’s common in these situations for one or both people to shut down and begin to avoid the conversation or, perhaps, each other entirely. It’s as if the conversational road disappears and we’re suddenly in off-road conditions that are full of nerve-wracking pitfalls and uncomfortable dust-ups as we make clumsy attempts to salvage the dialogue. We blame the other person, we lick our wounds, and we retreat inward. The problem is that these reactions are ineffective and destabilizing in business settings where team and one-on-one conversations are crucial for planning and productivity.
Navigating these situations requires an ability to lead and communicate in the moment—to steer the conversation back on course and keep it, and the relationship, on a productive trajectory.
In my work as an organizational leadership consultant and executive coach, I frequently encounter these stories. My background as an improvisational actor has helped me understand that these moments require a skill set that I call“improvisational leadership.” Every conversation, after all, is an improvisation with its unpredictable undulations and intonations—not to mention the inherent complexity of the content in a competitive business setting.
So what’s the secret to repairing a broken conversation?
Read the full post at Quartz
Daena Giardella is a Senior Lecturer in the MIT Leadership Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management.