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Conversational IQ: 3 Conversation Levels

3 Conversation Levels

Leaders commonly rely on two types of conversations: telling and selling.

When telling, they try to clearly specify what employees need to do. When selling, they try to persuade them with reasons for doing it. Unfortunately, some leaders resort to yelling or repeating themselves, and they wonder why they never get the results they want.

Employees may understand “what” to do and even “why” they should do it. But they’ll never fully engage unless they’re part of meaningful conversations that encourage connection, sharing and discovery. When we respect others’ worldviews (especially when they differ from our own), we create a space for better conversations and allow new ideas to emerge.

The following table offers a graphic representation of Glaser’s identified conversation levels:

LEVEL I – Transactional

How we exchange data and information

  • Tell

  • Ask

Need to Protect Resistance

Low Trust

LEVEL II – Positional

How we work with power and influence

  • Advocate

  • Inquire

  • Build consensus

  • Compromise

Wait and See

Conditional trust

LEVEL III – Transformational

How we co-create the future for mutual success

  • Share

  • Discover

  • Contract

  • Join


High Trust

Too often, we get stuck in Level II conversations because we’re addicted to being right. We fail to realize the negative impact this has on others. We may start out with an exchange of ideas, but we then become trapped in a power dance. It can be hard to let go of the need to win, but it’s critical to take this step to avoid interactions that are merely a contest of wills.

Only when we participate in Level III conversations can we transform ourselves and our conversation partners by sharing thoughts, ideas and belief systems. When we’re mindful of our intentions and notice the impact our words have on others, we begin to live in Level III.

We realize that:

· We shape the meanings our words have on others.

· We need to validate our words’ true meanings.

· Breakdowns occur when others interpret our words in unanticipated ways.

· Breakdowns occur when we try to persuade others that our meanings are the right ones.

· Breakthroughs occur when we take time to share and discover.

· Breakthroughs occur when we co-create and partner to create a shared reality.


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