August 25, 2015 Anil Saxena

Learned Helplessness: Let’s Have A Conversation – Me Talk You Listen

Do you know the serial interrupter? That person who uses the 80-20 rule of conversation. They speak 80% and you speak 20% of the time (if that).

What happened to the art of communication?

Used to be a conversation looked like this:

• You talk, I listen
• I talk, you listen

But it seems like now conversation looks like this:

• You talk, I listen
• I talk, you interrupt
• You talk some more
• End conversation

My wife and I have noticed that regardless of the setting, people are getting worse and worse at having good two-way discussions. Not only is it frustrating, but it undermines the success of teams and organizations.

There are many new theories that say conversation is one of the most critical parts of leadership, teamwork, and collaboration.

Leadership is a conversation – June Harvard Business Review
Conversation is the path to a high performing team – Wharton School of Business e-newsletter
Conversation is critical to high powered organizations and groups– 
So how did conversation go from dialogue but monologue?

• People forgot how to talk to each other:
The usage of Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and texting require less and less actual conversation with other people.

• People are so busy they forget that conversation is two way between you AND the person your are speaking with:

We are working more hours, over the weekend, and even through vacations. There is so much work to do that people don’t feel like they have the time for dialogue. They just need to get things done.

• There is much less room for alternative opinions or even dissent:

With the onslaught of 24 hour news channels, blogs dedicated to a particular point of view and all of the other segregation of ideas there is very limited interest in hearing views that are not our own. We have lost the ability to listen to someone who has a different opinion and actually hear what they are saying.

How do you ensure that this very important part of ensuring organizations work and making relationships in life viable does not turn into a bother or a bore?

• We need to talk to each other:

This may sound counterintuitive with the previous statement that we have so much to do. But, we need to spend more time actually talking to each other sharing ideas and even disagree.

• We (this includes me especially) need to stop and listen much much more:

It is imperative that when we have the opportunity to speak with someone else that we spend 80% of the time listening to what they have to say. Allowing them to have full complete thoughts. Concentrating on one that person has to say. This way you can learn about them, learn about their point of view, and most importantly learn something new about yourself.

• Actively look for people that don’t agree with you to speak with:

In order to get better at the give-and-take of conversation, one of the best things that someone can do is to seek out conversations with people that have a polar opposite point of view. It could be something that is a controversial subject like politics or it could be something that is less confrontational such as differing musical preferences. The objective, is that no matter how upset you get at that person’s opinion, you must listen to them while they are speaking and not interrupt or think of your comeback to what they are saying. You must listen all the way through and only when they are finished can you respond. At the end of the conversation you let them know  one thing that you’ve learned from that persons point of view or perspective. You’ll be surprised at what you learn!

Conversation drives innovation and increases the likelihood of a successful project, team or organization.  It is vital that this does not become a lost art.  If nothing else, that would make talking very boring.

Do you think that people have gotten worse at having conversations? What are some things that you do to encourage conversation? Please let me know!

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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