Creating Conversations that Inspire

Have you ever been in the company of people whose mere presence makes you want to be better? This can be a relative who survived overwhelming odds. Or achievers who went after their goals. Or perhaps colleagues who inquired after your welfare and made you appreciate the human side of business.

You probably thought “I wish I could be like them. I wish I have the charisma to move others.”

Well, you can be. Inspiring others should be something non-formulaic, but it’s also a skill you can develop. And it’s a skill worth learning. If you’re in a management position, your ability to connect with staff members can turn deliverables into driving visions. Even genuine coffee table talk with a stressed colleague can enhance your team’s over-all productivity.

So how can you engage others in conversations that inspire? Consider the following 3 tips; they’re simple but backed by research.

Manage your moods — and other people’s moods as well.

Case Western University’s Dr. Richard E. Boyatzis, author of “Resonant Leadership,” has conducted several studies pointing to the importance of moods in inspiring others. In his research, Boyatzis found that it’s not enough for leaders to simply project an upbeat mood. Instead, conversations that inspire are actually a combination of genuine positive emotion on the part of the leader and genuine positive mood on the part of his or her staff. He calls this matching of moods “resonance.”

One of the main premises of resonance is a phenomenon called emotional contagion: that is, even without saying a word, people unconsciously catch the mood of the people around them. (It’s brain-to-brain communication that happens without you noticing.) In fact, our brain waves tend to match the brain waves of the most emotionally expressive person in the room! Thus, if you come to work still upset about your daughter’s overspending, even if you put your game face on, you’re going to contaminate your team with your bad day.

If you want to be able to inspire others, train yourself in emotional regulation — and aim for authentic but realistic positivity. A good way to accomplish this is to constantly think of happy, meaningful memories before going to work.

Find the style that fits you best.

A May 2013 article written by Joseph Folkman, published in Forbes Magazine, revealed the results of a study of 1,000 inspiring leaders using a technique called 360-degree feedback. Here’s what he and his co-researcher Jack Zenger found out: contrary to popular belief, being an inspiration is not always about charisma; there’s more than one way to connect with people. In particular, his study unearthed 6 different styles inspirational leaders use.

  • Some leaders inspire others by constantly communicating their vision: a view of the future that’s specific, realistic and growth-oriented. When people are able to engage others in a worthwhile pursuit of something definite, it’s easier to get on board with a task.
  • Some leaders, on the other hand, inspire through enthusiasm. They are passionate speakers who genuinely love their work.
  • And then there are leaders whose inspiring ability comes from being great “drivers.” They have focused intensity to meet target goals and are sticklers for accountability.
  • The other 3 inspirational leadership styles are enhancing (building positive one-to-one relationships with people), principle-orientation (interested in being good role models), and expertise-orientation (inspiring others through one’s skill and proficiency.)

The important thing to remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to inspiring others. You can find the one (or more) which fits your personality or situation the most. For sure each will have advantages and disadvantages, but it’s about being able to navigate each successfully that would matter in the end.

Lastly, replace instructions with intent.

Captain David Marquet, a former commander of a nuclear submarine, has talked about the counter-productivity of giving orders — to the point that he has resolved not to give orders. Even if the work of his crew is sensitive and critical, he opted to relinquish control to his staff members. This move empowered his men, especially when it came to making decisions. His crew then became better inspired to get the job done to standard.

According to Marquet, don’t give orders, but instead share what you’d like to happen. Letting other people figure out what’s the best way to get from point A to point B is part of helping others develop efficacy. So don’t judge the how, unless it’s totally deplorable. If the desired end result has been achieved, then what you have is a success.

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