Piercing Conversations and Conversational Capacity

I had the privilege to attend a local Vistage meeting as a guest this morning.  The speaker was Craig Weber and the topic was about piercing conversations and conversational capacity.  Weber is an engaging speaker and did an excellent job of educating the group on the concept of conversational capacity.

The idea behind conversational capacity is that for any given group of people, there is a list of topics and / or issues that we could rank from most difficult at the top to the easiest at the bottom.  If we started at the bottom of the list the group could have productive conversations and proactively solve issues.  But as we work our way to the top of the list, the group will eventually stall out and become unproductive.  The higher up the list a given group can productively converse is a measure of its conversational capacity.

Weber states that when conversations get difficult most people tend to begin either “minimize” the conflict or trying to “win” the conflict.  The problem is that these two behaviors are unlikely to lead to the best possible outcomes.  And the most effective teams will find a way to operate in the “sweet spot” which is the middle ground between minimizing and winning.

After explaining the concept, Weber went on to provide some tips on how to build the conversational capacity in our given groups.

Tips for Maintaining the Correct Mindset in Meetings:

  • Ask yourself, “What am I seeing that others are missing?”
  • Ask yourself, “What are we all missing?  What are our blind-spots?”
  • Ask yourself, “What do others see on this issue that I don’t?”

Actions for effective decision making:

  • State your Position.
  • Explain your thinking.
  • Test your hypothesis:  “What am I missing?”
  • Inquiry

Common behaviors of Minimizers:

  • Passive body language.
  • Withholding their concerns.
  • Asking leading questions in an effort to backdoor their positions.
  • Feigning agreement.
  • Emailing opposing ideas as opposed to face-to-face conversations.

Common behaviors of Winners:

  • Aggressive body language.
  • No inquiry into opposing ideas or positions.
  • Dismissive of others ideas.
  • Stating opinions as fact.
  • Use of hyperbole.
  • Asking leading questions in order to sabotage other persons position.

Other interesting ideas and quotes from the presentation

  • Management’s business is building an organization that works!
  • Authority figures should generally weigh in last.
  • Your ego is the biggest enemy to your conversational capacity.
  • “Be that as it may,” is a very sophisticated way of saying “Whatever!”
  • A drowning person might know that they are drowning, but that is no substitute for knowing how to swim.
  • Most often in life, in order to actually get smarter, we have to feel dumber first.
  • The job of the executive is to to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting.

Harley Davidson Decision Levels:

  1. Top Down – No input required.
  2. Consultative – My Decision, but I want input.
  3. Consensus – Group Decision, and group input needed.

Ideas Worth Spreading: Keys to a Compelling Call to Action

Speaker:  Nancy Duarte

Title: The Secret Structure of Great Talks

Subject:  Storytelling

Rating: 7/10

Keys to a compelling Call to Action:

  • The listener is the hero.
  • Begin with what is.
  • Transition to what could be.
  • Alternate back and forth between What Is, and What Could Be.
  • Need a Call to Action.

Duarte wrote a blog post for Harvard Business Review on this same subject.

Reading Notes: How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less

Author: Milo O Frank

Format: Audible

Narrated By: Milo O Frank

Subject: Communication

Rating: 5/10

This is a very basic, but useful book.  Having said that the title of the book sums up its content nicely which is how to get your point across in 30 seconds or less.  It is a very easy book to read and I believe the audible version was just over 45 minutes long.  The book breaks down the content of a good message into six distinct parts:

  • Have a Clear Objective.  What do you want to happen?
  • Talk to the right Audience.  Find out as much as you can about them. (Who)
  • Find the right Approach (face-to-face, phone call, email, brochure.)
  • Hook is used to get the audiences attention.  It can be a statement or a question.  What is the most unusual, exciting, or dramatic part of your message?
  • The Body of the message should include all the relevant details, (who, what, where,how, why.)
  • During the Close, make sure you have a Call to Action (or reaction.)  Ask for something specific and include a specific time frame.  A message without a close is a wasted opportunity.

The book also stresses the importance of painting visual pictures and appealing to the listener’s emotions.

Possible Use for this Book:  Could be very useful in writing a 30 second elevator pitch.

What I liked Most About the Book:  It made its point quickly.  The entire length takes about 45 minutes to listen to.

What I liked Least About the Book:  The 90s game show music that play throughout the audio book.  The various voice actors and voice-acting made the entire book seem like a cheesy infomercial.

Reading Notes: The FIVE Dysfunctions of a TEAM

The pyramid of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Author:  Patrick Lencioni

Format: Audible

Narrated By: Charles Stransky

Subject: Teamwork / Leadership

Rating: 8/10


The Five Dysfunctions of a team covers the basic issues that stop otherwise successful people from leading a company.  These issues are revealed and solved through a fictional tale of a new CEO, Catherine Petersen, who takes over a struggling Tech company that should be wiping the floor with its competition.  She spends the lion-share of her time focusing on getting her leadership team to work together to achieve results as opposed to merely just existing together.  She accomplishes this by educating the team of its dysfunctions, and ultimately helping it to overcome them.

What I liked about the book: 

The book is written as a fable as opposed to a reference manual.

Part of the book that most applied to me:  

It helped me develop a better understanding of the need of conflict in teams.


  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team according to the book:
    • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group.
    • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate.
    • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization.
    • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards.
    • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success.
  • Not everyone who started on the leadership team, stayed on the leadership team.


Reading Notes: How Full Is Your Bucket

Author: Tom Rath

Format: Audible / Hardcopy

Narrated By: Tom Rath

Subject: Leadership / Motivation

Rating: 5/10

Summary:  How Full is Your Bucket is an interesting and easy read that gives insight into the ongoing effects of sincere praise and constructive criticism.   It emphasizes the value of “Bucket Filling” (sincere praise) and the consequences of “Bucket Dipping” (nonconstructive/negative interactions) has on organizations.  In fact, it reminded me of and served as a confirmation of General Colin Powell’s rule of leadership: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  The book also warns of the consequences of overpraising and of giving insincere praise.

What I liked about the book: It is easy to read and apply!

Recommended by:  Peter Dunn


  • The magic ratio: 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction.
  • Too much positive emotion? More than 13 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction could decrease productivity.
  • We experience approximately 20,000 individual moments every day.
  • 65% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year.
  • The number-one reason people leave their jobs: They don’t feel appreciated.
  • Bad bosses could increase the risk of stroke by 33%.
  • A study found that negative employees can scare off every customer they speak with — for good.
  • 9 out of 10 people say they are more productive when they’re around positive people.
  • During the Korean War, relentless negativity resulted in a 38% POW death rate — the highest in U.S. military history.
  • Extending longevity: Increasing positive emotions could lengthen life span by 10 years.