Conversations, commitment, collaboration: A guide for teams to successfully move from talk to action
This compelling book offers a wealth of frameworks, stories and tips for organisations to harness the power of conversation. Here are some key insights and tips.
Friday July 29, 2022,
6 min Read
Launched in 2012, YourStory's Book Review section features over 340 titles on creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital transformation. See also our related columns The Turning Point, Techie Tuesdays, and Storybites.
Practical and effective approaches to business communication and collaboration are well covered in the new book, Talk Action: How Successful Teams Align Conversations with Action by Dr Latha Vijaybaskar.
The well-referenced book is packed with frameworks, examples and tips for conversational engagement in companies. A glossary of terms and an index at the end of the book would have been welcome additions.
The material covers team dynamics, story studies, and academic knowledge. The author draws on frameworks like positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and effective coaching. Each chapter has illustrations (‘sketchnotes’) and points for reflection.
Latha Vijaybaskar is Founder and Leadership Coach at VITAL Conversations. Her book draws on years of research on conversations as the cornerstone to action. Her earlier books are 21 Difficult Conversations and Masterstrokes.
Here are my key takeaways from the 250-page book, summarised as well in the table below. See also my reviews of the related books Once Upon an Innovation, Story 10X, Five Stars, Let the Story Do the Work, and Stories for Work.
Entrepreneurs should also check out YourStory’s Changemaker Story Canvas, a free visualisation tool for startups and innovators, and Pitch Tips for Startups.
“Conversations build trust, which leads to engagement and then actions follow,” Latha begins.
The author interchangeably uses the terms talk and conversation. “Talk is the process of transforming thinking and inducing action through collective learning and inquiry,” she defines.
Barriers that come in the way are focusing only on problems rather than the bigger context, negative framing, minimised participation, defensive dynamics, and lack of clarity on next steps.
“Conversations are living systems; they nurturing, a forward-looking approach and positive framing,” Latha emphasises. They are fluid and complex, and are based on broad frameworks rather than a strict formula.
High-performance teams have effective leadership, clarity of goals and roles, alignment, learning agility, and adaptive decision-making. High-engagement teams have psychological safety, trust, collaboration, meaningful work, energy, and commitment.
Latha compares and contrasts teams based on performance and engagement levels, dividing them into categories such as competitive and comfortable. “Quality conversations lead to aligned action,” she describes.
“Removing the fear of speaking up can promote innovation by freeing people up to suggest novel or unorthodox ideas,” she adds.
Depending on size of the group, purpose and intention, she describes the ‘talk kaleidoscope’ of nine types of conversation. It is important to reflect on one’s own patterns and preferences for self-reflection, group size, virtual/phone talk, and small talk with strangers. These are further categorised using dimensions of collective-individual and curious-judging parameters, as well as ask-tell and positive-negative attributes.
‘Positive-ask’ conversations allow for collective curiosity and the freedom to express authentically. They draw people towards a forward-looking solutions focus, Latha describes.
Factors driving deeper need to master conversations include generational change, digital transformation, shorter product cycles, and changing dimensions of leadership.
The VITAL framework
Latha proposes a framework for moving from talk to action, called VITAL: visualise, invite context, transform to conversation chrysalis, action design, and learning in reflection.
The first step is to imagine or visualise the conversation taking place, from intention to dialogue and outcomes. Different scenarios should be worked out, such as identifying potential barriers. Reframing can help move better towards resolution without dissolution of the issue.
Invitation to conversation can be made effective via generative questions (what if) to stimulate creativity and diverse perspectives. Latha recommends using Otto Scharmer’s four levels of listening (downloading, factual, empathetic, generative). For example, taking notes in a meeting is a sign of commitment to listening and understanding.
Stories play an important role in conversations.
“Stories are layered, alchemical narratives which are deeply enmeshed in our cognitive and social fabrics. It is the most powerful invitation to a conversation,” Latha affirms.
She describes the ‘conversation chrysalis’ as a safe space for transformative discussions. It involves commitment to listening, keeping judgment at bay, creative stretch, and a focus on purpose.
“Actions occur first in our conversations and then shape other kinds of actions,” Latha explains. Effective conversations should address the next steps, such as timeline, roles, process, and resources. Action-based talks integrate commitment and accountability.
The final step is double-loop learning–reflecting on the action as well as the conversation which led to the action.
Latha illustrates this with an example of an expert who was seen as more of a troubleshooter than a leader. Reflection on conversations eventually led him to coach others to solve problems on their own.
The four conversations
The third section of the book addresses four types of conversations for successful teams: connected, influence, career, and difficult conversations. The VITAL framework and talk kaleidoscope are used to suggest ways of identifying blocks, reframing, and moving towards engaged action.
Connected conversations can be improved by showing trust, caring and addition of value by the participants. Silos and purely transactional focus should be overcome, and storytelling should be used for including diverse perspectives. A “chain of meaning” to the north star should eventually be created.
Influence conversations should stay away from perceptions of manipulation, and focus on a larger beneficial agenda. “The first step in influencing others is to be ready to be influenced,” Latha explains.
Empathy should be the starting point, not polarisation and turf wars. “Using stories to understand and storytelling to influence is a double-loop conversation,” she adds.
Career conversations should empower employees to crafting their next steps by focusing on long-term objectives and growth obstacles. They can take place outside routine performance appraisals, and can lead to coaching, job rotation, or promotion.
Latha recommends using the SASO matrix (strengths, aspirations, skills, opportunities). The ‘career dashboard’ includes preferences for financial criteria, people, role, work-life balance, creativity, and autonomy.
Difficult conversations involve uncertainty, discomfort, and potential conflict. Latha recommends understanding the ‘4 Ps’ in this context– priority, personality, people, and past experience.
However, such conversations can also lead to fundamental discussions on values, expectations and alignment. Prior outcomes of actions should be discussed, the status quo should be challenged, and new opportunities should be unpacked.
Through stories and examples, Latha shows how positive and powerful questioning and a future-focused positive orientation can help in such conversations.
The concluding chapter addresses conversations in the virtual medium, where online distractions, commitment blocks, and the absence of cues such as body language can be challenges. More emphasis is needed on transparency, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to speak, and use of digital platforms to continue chats online.
“The beauty about conversations is that it is a part of a systemic whole, and small changes even within ourselves can ripple out big differences,” Latha signs off.
YourStory has also published the pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups’ as a creative and motivational guide for innovators (downloadable as apps here: Apple, Android).
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti