As leaders, we each have multiple conversations throughout our day. A one-on-one with an employee. A strategy meeting with our team. A performance issue discussion with HR. A budget update with our own leader. And so on.

We typically enter these conversations with a preset notion of how they’ll turn out. Or how we want them to turn out. Yet how often does that preset notion – assumption – go out the window once the conversation gets underway? What we wanted or expected – our intention – does not match the other person’s intention and communication breaks down.

How does that happen?

In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glaser, organizational anthropologist and Founder and CEO of CreatingWE, explains it:

“Breakdowns happen when you and I think we are talking to each other, but we are really talking past each other. We are so engrossed in what we have to say that we don’t realize we are carrying on our own monologues, not dialogues. When we are conversationally blind, our conversations often go off track because we see the world from our own perspective and not from the other person’s.”

One of the most important steps in becoming an effective leader is to develop trusting relationships – with your individual employees, with your team, with your peers, and with your own leadership. Developing that trust comes partly from your actions – doing what you say you’re going to do – and partly from how you communicate with others, or as Glaser calls it, your “Conversational Intelligence.”

“Conversations are multidimensional, not linear,” Glaser says. “What we think, what we say, what we mean, what others hear, and how we feel about it afterward are the key dimensions behind Conversational Intelligence. Though conversations are not simply “ask and tell” levels of discourse, we often treat them as though they are.”

Conversational Intelligence is an organization’s ability to communicate in ways that create a shared concept of reality. “It’s about closing the gaps between your reality and mine. As such, it can yield improved business results and create a framework for enhancing relationships and partnerships, releasing new energy for growth and transformation.”

So how do we develop and improve our Conversational Intelligence?

Glaser says that the first step is creating a healthy, trusting environment. “When intentions are set on bridging our realities, being open and transparent, focusing on respect and relationships before tasks, listening to understand, discovering shared success and consistently working to narrow the reality gaps, we are exercising our conversational muscles. When we do that, we are much more likely to achieve organizational goals and perhaps our personal ones as well.”

 “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw