Nonversation & Improvement Dialogues: A practical tip to master listening skills


“He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing”

-Oscar Wilde, The picture of Dorian Gray

Recently i finished reading a book “People Tools” authored by Alan C. Fox. In this captivating book author shares 54 strategies you can use to create more joy, embrace prosperity and deepen relationships with people at work. These tools are easy to use and yield immediate results. Inspired by one of his tool “Have a Nonversation” i am sharing some tips to practice active listening skills.

During a conversation, when someone gives you a feedback to change something, you have two choices:

  • You can have an Intent to learn: Treat feedback as a gift and explore possibilities with a growth mindset, this leads to agreement, engagement, collaboration and good feelings between two people.
  • You can have an Intent to defend: Becoming defensive to the feedback and trying to explain with a fixed mindset. Our arguments only produce more anger and withdrawal, this may lead to no conversation or Fahrenheit 451 conversation that simply continues the problem. We need a better tool or mechanism “Nonversation”- Only one of the conversation partner talks turn by turn, other just listen.

I apply this tool in my one o one coaching conversations inspired by “improvement dialogues and co-pilot programs” mentioned by Jurgen Appelo in his book #Workout and find it very effective. And what i learned by practicing co-pilot programs is teaching, in the relationship between an coachee and his coach, can go both ways. Its about peering and learning between peers. I experimented Jurgen’s sharing of co-pilot programs with a Nonversation where i listen the other peer and when i coach and coachee is listening i also use another technique mentioned by jurgen called as ‘appreciative inquiry’. what i learned is to stop focusing on “what is wrong” and instead wonder about “what is possible”. This appreciative inquiry has helped me building trust with the coachees. Also when the coachee is provided a set of statements sounding like affirmations in different areas like personal, relational, professional and organizational statements. for example in improvement dialogues the coach asks the coachee to answer as affirmations : What I need most is… a bit more time to learn scrum master skills and conflict navigation techniques”.

I listen, and I say nothing (no cheating by making faces, or looking at the watch, just listen). No answers, no promises, no expectations, just listening. I allow other person to talk and vent out everything. Sometimes, you can often get your messages across effectively in a nonversation than in a conversation. At the least your conversation partner will feel heard, which is a great thing in itself.

As a lifelong learner i found that there has never been a downside when i had an intent to learn and there has seldom been an upside of having an intent to defend.

I know, you have been listening, now its your turn too, I am looking forward to listening from you 🙂

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