The First Conversation
By Paula Pace

David said “I dropped six months (easy) off my learning curve when I came to . . . !  My boss knew exactly how to put me on the fast track for a leadership position.”

Wow!  Who wouldn’t want to jump on the fast track to leadership?  I met David several years ago when I was consulting with a major insurance company in Des Moines, Iowa.  I was leading a group of high-potential leaders through an exercise designed to help them open communication with new team members.  

The exercise is simple in that it consists of a conversation.  Just a conversation.  Something so simple, yet often overlooked by both the leader and the new team member in their frenzy to get started, catch up or be done with a project.  Here are a few of the statements both the leader and new team member use to open their minds in communicating: 

* What I think you need to know about working with me is . . .
* I see my greatest contribution to this team as . . .
* When I’m knee-deep in work and I feel like I’ll never catch up I . . .
David came up to me after the exercise and told me about how his boss took him aside on his first day in the office.  She produced a list of talking points, similar to those in the exercise our group had just experienced.  He said that knowing how his boss worked and how she reacted to certain situations prepared him for a fast start. 

Talking doesn’t always constitute conversation; your effort to understand another person often requires forethought and it might require taking a chance to ask the tough, delicate or detailed questions.  If you can do it, your reward is learning how to work together more efficiently and more quickly.

People react to this exercise with surprise at its simplicity, and appreciation for its effectiveness.  They
take it back to their teams.

When leaders tell me their teams needs to communicate more effectively, I ask them to go back to the first conversation; I believe it’s never too late. 
By Paula Pace, The Executive Development Group

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