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Conversational capacity: the art of clearly and calmly stating what you mean – and really mean what you say…

We’ve all been in meetings or conversations that have either turned into heated debates or shouting contests or, in the pursuit of pleasing others, feigned agreement to avoid conflict, instead of voicing thoughts.

Conversational capacity is your ability to have open, balanced, non defensive and learning-focused dialogue under pressure, or dealing with difficult subjects, and when in tight situations.

It’s operating within a set of principles to increase your effectiveness in conversation, and to ensure that everyone’s viewpoints are considered and understood correctly to make truly informed decisions.

But, when in conflicted or pressurized situations, humans are wired to fight or fly, which may sometimes transpire into dysfunctional behavior.

If your conversational capacity is high, you can openly, calmly and productively address the relevant issues. If your conversational capacity is low, the slightest remark, conflict or opposition can upset and derail your effectiveness, even if you have all the right answers ready in your head.

Which means, you need to know how to effectively converse in diverse situations to bring your thoughts, ideas and concepts across clearly and succinctly, without being derailed or getting upset.

Why is conversational capacity so important?

It determines your ability to make informed decisions, solve challenging problems, responds to tough challenges with greater agility and skill, orchestrate effective change, provide useful feedback, helps you deal with conflict, and to perform brilliantly in dire circumstances.

A high conversational capacity can resolve the toughest and most difficult issues and get the work done. It means that despite the conflict or differences, you’re still able to make good decisions.


  • Critical issues are being discussed openly and responsibly
  • Conflicts are leveraged for learning
  • Threatening issues are jointly managed
  • Trust and respect grow deeper
  • Perspectives and assumptions are explored and tested
  • Informed risk taking is encouraged
  • People take responsibility for mistakes
  • Effectiveness escalates

When conversational capacity is absent, problems are covered up, threatening issues are avoided, people don’t take responsibility, and there’s no trust or coherence.

People are unwilling to bring issues to the table that need discussion. Unproductive or petty issues pop up, and there’s arguing, bickering or heated debate but no progress.

Find the sweet spot

In his book, Conversational Capacity: The Key to Building Successful Teams that Perform when the Pressure is On, author Craig Weber, (founder of the Weber Consulting Group) states that in any conversation there’s a ‘sweet spot’ where conversations are balanced and open.

And you know you’re in the sweet spot when there’s relative balance between behaviour spectrums; candorand curiosity.

When facing a tough issue, people often move away from the sweet spot. Some people lose candor and become guarded, cautious and shut down. Others lose curiosity and become arrogant and argumentative.

Weber’s two techniques for more candor:

  • Advocate your position clearly and succinctly.
  • Describe and share the thinking that led you to your position, and how you’ve interpreted it.

Techniques to cultivate curiosity:

  • After explaining your position, seek out others’ reactions or thoughts to get them to challenge your thinking – or provide alternative ways to look at your idea.
  • Consider and think of the different views of others without skepticism or cynicism, and ask questions to learn how they’ve perceived a problem.

How’s your conversational capacity?

Are you a minimizer or a winner?

Minimizers are too afraid of conflict to add their point of view to a conversation, even if that point is of significant value – and they always walk away frustrated.

If you tend to shrink away from conflict (a flight response) you must work on being more candid, continuing to participate and voice your position even in tense territory.

Winners care more about their point-of-view being ‘right’ and being accepted by the group, rather than what’s best for everyone – and always walk away with a sense of self-justification, yet nothing real has been accomplished.

If you tend to be aggressive or argumentative, or keen on winning a conflict (a fight response) you have to work on remaining curious and open to others’ views.

Further evaluate yourself with below questions so you can effect change for better conversations and productive meetings:

  • How quickly and consistently do you handle and address problems that arise?
  • Do you call attention to your concerns, or do you hold back fearing the reactions you’ll provoke?
  • How much frustration, time, money and morale would you save if you improved your conversation ability, to address issues when knowing where the organization/project goes wrong?
  • Where do you find your core challenges lie?
  • What lasting frameworks, tools, and skills for building your capacity to effectively implement strategies arising from these challenges and issues?

Your skills checklist for better conversations and interactions

Competence – become more skillful to implement plans, projects, strategy, and change – and to solve problems and make decisions with more speed, clarity, and efficacy.

Build resilience – to weather adversity and address tough challenges with greater focus, confidence, and presence of mind.

Agility – learn to adapt to shifting circumstances more deliberately and proficiently.

Healthy environment – actively cultivate an environment (even if it’s only in your own mind) that’s good for everyone and the business, considering all the elements that can make this environment more joyful and productive.

A clear purpose – meaning: what should change because of the interaction so you can focus on that objective as opposed to ‘who’s right’ and ‘who’s wrong?’

Fairness – conduct in a respectful, fair, transparent, and in a meritocratic way (meritocratic means; people whose progress is based on ability and talent, rather than class or privilege).

Commitment – generate powerful engagement for higher levels of commitment to the organization/project and its objectives.

Build meaningful relationships – break down the barriers that often hold others back, and actively listen and seek out others’ input instead of simply focusing on your own point.

Master conflict triggers – become mindful of your own tendencies and behavior triggers under stress. Under what circumstances do you avoid or minimize conflict? And what triggers your urge to be right?

Check your ego – to stay grounded in the sweet spot and have high conversational capacity under pressure, you’ve got to control and manage your ego.

Remember the three types of conversation – (1) Debate, presentation of divergent views to find one view to prevail for decision-making, (2) Discussion, exchanging information to achieve a consensus or compromise, (3) Dialogue, valuing and listening intently to other people’s perspectives, and building on these different perspectives to create new solutions.

Accept others’ will disagree with you – the whole point of conversation is see the other person’s perspective, so allow this to happen. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t automatically make you wrong or stupid, but you will always learn something new.

Get the facts right – if you don’t have it on hand, be willing to check your facts, and admit when you need more information or need to do more research.

Separate emotions from facts – there will always be things you associate with very powerfully that will hugely influence how you feel. Even if the facts contradict how you feel, accept your feelings, and accept other people’s feelings. Learn how to manage your own emotions and understand those of others, by getting skilled in emotional intelligence.

Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat – If you do persuade others to see things your way, be kind and tread lightly, or you may change their mind back. If your mind was changed and now agree with someone else’s point of view, be grateful to have learned something new.

Excellence – form a culture of excellence where everyone feel their best and brightest and therefore give their best and brightest.

Dare to be different

“It’s the people who see things differently that provide the most value,” says Weber.

Learn these six skills (principles) and the process for using them, to be different in your approach to any situation and conversation:

Reflection – will help you recognize the conversation styles of others and how to match it to increase connection and personal engagement.

Perception – is critical in understanding how what you think, drives everything you feel, say, and do… that in turn drives your results. Learn to assess and challenge the accuracy of your thinking to improve problem-solving and decision making.

Preparation – this reinforces the importance of mental preparation rather than talking off the cuff, and hoping that the conversation will go well.

Expression – learn more about how to deliver a message to create more collaboration and contribution rather than resistance and defensiveness.

Discovery – is essential to increase the learning, clarity, and understanding of others and their ideas and perspectives.

Connection – learn to understand the myriad of messages sent but never understood. A better connection with others will help you to recognize the source of  negative emotional reactions and how to defuse them.