Fran Tarkenton


Serial entrepreneur and NFL Hall-of-Famer, Fran Tarkenton interviews Judith E. Glaser as part of a mentoring series offered to the 47,000+ members of his entrepreneur coaching website,


Video Interviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Audio Interviews:
The worst behavior for leaders is addiction to being right
Can You Get Addicted to Being Right?
How Great Leaders Encourage Introverts
Secrets to a Great Conversation


Conversational Blind Spots at Work


By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: May 16, 2013 Updated: October 14,2014 

Conversational-BlindspotsTwenty-eight years ago I began my first experiment in what I call conversational intelligence. I was hired by Union Carbide to work with 17 high-powered sales executives in danger of losing a bid for a key contract. My job was to figure out how they could raise their game and beat the other seven competitors.

For more than two weeks I had them role-play potential conversations with “customers” and I charted what they said. The patterns were clear: The executives used “telling statements” 85% of the time, leaving a paltry 15% for questions. What’s more, almost all the questions they asked were actually statements in disguise. They were talking and talking, trying to bring their counterparts around to their point of view, all the time thinking that they were still conducting good, productive conversations.

Having spent thousands of hours observing executives in similar, real-world situations — from prospecting to performance reviews, business development to innovation — I can tell you this is a common problem. People often think they’re talking to each other when they’re really talking past each other. They carry on monologues, not dialogues.

There is a biological explanation for this: when we express ourselves, our bodies release a higher level of reward hormones, and we feel great. The more we talk, the better we feel. Our bodies start to crave that high, and we become blind to the conversational dynamics. While we’re being rewarded, the people we’re talking to might consciously or subconsciously feel cut off, invisible, unimportant, minimized and rejected, which releases the same neurochemicals as physical pain.

Feeling that rejection sends them into a “fight, flight” response, releasing cortisol, which floods the system and shuts down the prefrontal cortex, or executive brain, letting the amygdala, or lower brain, take over. To compound conversational challenges, the brain disconnects about every 12-18 seconds to evaluate and process, which means we’re often paying as much attention to our own thoughts as we are to other people’s words.

These are natural impulses. But we have to learn to master them because clear two-way, empathetic, non-judgmental communication is critical for the high functioning of any business. It’s how deals get done, projects get run, and profits get earned. That’s why I now spend my time teaching people — just like those executives at Union Carbide — how to become more intelligent about conversations.

Recognize your blind spots:

  • Assuming that others see what you see, feel what you feel, and think what you think, since that’s rarely the case
  • Failing to recognize that emotions, such as fear and distrust, change how you and others interpret and talk about reality
  • Thinking you understand and remember what others say, when you really only remember what you think about what they’ve said.
  • Underestimating your own propensity to have conversational blind spots


  • Paying attention to and minimizing the time you “own” the conversational space
  • Sharing that space by asking open-ended discovery questions, to which you don’t know the answers, so you stay curious (i.e.. What influenced your thinking?)
  • Listening non-judgmentally to the answers
  • Asking follow-up questions

Through coaching, the Union Carbide sales team began to notice when they were making assumptions, interpreting incorrectly, and jumping to conclusions. They started asking discovery questions and paying close attention to their customers’ answers, which expanded their frame of reference and gave them new insights into needs and opportunities. In so doing, the executives presented themselves as conversationally intelligent partners, not sales people. They won the contract.


Turns Out You’ve Been Brainstorming All Wrong

brainstorming the right way

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: July 30, 2014

brainstorming the right way

Suppose you’re invited to participate in a brainstorming session. The facilitator says that “every idea counts” and invites you to propose as many ideas as you can in the next 15 minutes. You feel rushed. You suppress ideas you think won’t get support. You narrow your own limited list of ideas, offering just a sample to the group. The facilitator posts yours and your colleagues’ ideas, inviting everyone to vote for which is best. Of course, not everyone is on board with the winning idea and while some give in, most aren’t sure about the new direction the meeting has taken.

Therein lies the rub. Our tried-and-true ideation processes can actually dampen the creativity companies are working so hard to create. To promote real innovation, we need to stop giving lip service to new thinking, get away from the need to reach consensus and instead nurture approaches that truly forge new ground.

The resistance to change and real innovation is natural. It’s driven by some deep-seated forces that we need to recognize to foster new thinking.

  • Force #1: Need for inclusion and connection: When we are brainstorming with others, the need to agree, feel included and to think the same way others do. Real innovation requires divergence and expanding our ideas into the far recesses of our brain that may be less comfortable or familiar.
  • Force #2: Being Right: Thinking the same thoughts repeatedly lulls us into a sense of comfort. Thinking we know the “correct” answer reinforces feelings of intelligence and good judgment. We may not even realize we are in a repetitive loop, or experiencing status quo thinking. Instead, we feel good that we got it right.
  • Force #3: Mental Grooves: Thinking repetitive thoughts etches “grooves” into the brain. The brain then reinforces what it knows, perhaps at the expense of what is new and novel. Along these well-trodden paths, brain structure serves to link learning to behavior in predictable ways. Yet getting into those parts of the brain forges new connections—both at the idea level and at the level of the brain tissue itself.

To up our innovation game we have to think differently. We rarely pay enough attention to leveraging our capacity to form new ideas, test, refine, and advocate for new concepts. Here are some tips to do just that:

Tip 1: Prime your brain with trigger words. We need to prime our brains to freely generate and express ideas, not suppress them. So, state the problem or challenge you are working on. Find trigger words related to your challenge to get your juices flowing. Sleep on it, watch a movie, and go to a park. Give the body something to do while the mind wanders freely. Then put yourself to work.

If you’re in a group, consider listing trigger words in two columns on a white board and asking colleagues to look for connections between the words that otherwise wouldn’t be obvious. Invite people to generate as many ideas as they can for a few minutes, and then conduct your brainstorming session with your brains primed to think differently.

Related: Break Out the Office Cake. It Could Change Your Company.

Tip 2: Think of the worst idea. Remove the fear of making mistakes, feeling stupid or safe or receiving negative feedback. No idea is a bad idea. In fact, research shows that what appears after ‘the worst idea’ can become a trigger for the best ideas no one has thought of before.

Related: Stop Having the Same Conversation Again and Again

Tip 3: Let it flow. Don’t wait for inspiration or settle for perfect solutions. Instead, generate a wealth of ideas with others. When you’re inclined to stop, or judge your ideas, keep going. Don’t get caught in your usual patterns and instead open up your mind to a ‘non-judgmental’ state where your ideas and others’ ideas can connect. If you are feeling anxious, uncomfortable, or lost in uncharted territory, know you are on the right track.

Related: Read This Before Your Next Hard Conversation

Remember: Most innovative ideas come through experimentation and discovery. Prime your brain and set the stage for the most amazing new novel and exciting ideas to emerge. In the process you’ll learn to learn to trust innovation instincts – yours and everyone else’s.


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C’mon, Yah Cowardly Lion: Courage to Be the Change

Cowardly Lion

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: July 28, 2014

Cowardly Lion

When Bayer, a $7 billion multinational pharmaceutical company, acquired a smaller $300 million diagnostic company, CEO Rolf Classon chose to call it a “merger.”

He wanted to immediately establish a “power-with-others” relationship with the new organization. I was part of a consulting team who facilitated a multi-day vision, values, and leadership session to help the leadership team create the new direction for the culture and the business.

“We are becoming one company,” Rolf told the top hundred people from both companies at their kickoff meeting. He went on to convey that he wanted to set new ground rules for working collaboratively in a new environment in which “together we can create something that never existed before.”

This was a decade ago, and was one of the key events that elevated my awareness that some leaders have really keen Conversational Intelligence skills, and when they exercises their C-IQ wisdom, things start to work out when the odds are against them. Most mergers and acquisitions fail. We’re lucky if 18% succeed. What Rolf was doing that set his leadership and success apart from many others is that he intuitively knew one of the 5 key conversational intelligence principles that are at the heart of conversational intelligence – and business success.

Principle #1: Transparency… be open and honest about what needs to change
The executives discussed changes that needed to be made in the organization to maximize the new partnership. Then they broke into smaller teams to craft the new vision and values, with the intent of reporting their insights to the larger executive team.

Principle #2: Relationship… share and discover from each other to build relationship
When the executives reconvened, a spirit of collaboration had clearly emerged.
Rolf once again stood before the group and asked, “How many of you have been through a visioning session before?” Everyone raised his or her hand.

“How many of you have left those sessions and returned to the workplace, only to find that nothing had changed?” Mostly everyone raised his or hand. He then declared, “For us to be successful as an organization, we need to realize that we can’t create the organization we want without making fundamental changes in ourselves.”

Principle #3: Understanding … go deeper in exploring our impact
As the event unfolded, something magical occurred. Rolf, by his example, taught the executives the true meaning of leadership. “Change begins inside each person. So I want to let you know that over the past few days I have been looking at what I’ve been doing to unknowingly prevent change from taking place. I’ve discovered at least sixteen things I want to change about myself! Here are my own top three: my arrogance, my control, and my lack of trust. At lunch, I want you each to think about what change means to you, and what you can do personally to inspire your own growth. After lunch I want to hear from my top executives — from the podium — expressing their personal insights.”

Principle #4: Shared Success… find common ground
The CEO allowed himself to be as vulnerable as he had ever been in his life when he acknowledged the personal work he needed to do to make this merger a success. As he left behind his flaws so did the other executives, which made room for cooperation and partnership to grow. Rolf continued his talk about the future. He engaged others in conversations about the “big challenges” and the “big picture.” The key was creating a shared context for change. By setting the stage in this way, he enabled others to find a common ground on which to build the future.

Principle #5: Truth Telling… it’s not just your success – it’s our success
By setting the context, you level the playing field. Thus, power and hierarchy become less important than the results colleagues can create through teamwork. It is a field in which all can put themselves into the context of organizational change and define how they can contribute. When you are on the edge of discovering the context of change, you may find yourself thinking about how you can be an inclusive leader.

LeaderShift: From I to WE
Learn to recognize when you’re coming from “I” in an unhealthy way. For instance, are you withdrawing and excluding others? Are you defensive and reactive, setting the context for territorialism to emerge? Shift your mindset from “I” to “WE,” and set a new context for your conversations. When we shift from I to we in our minds, and listen to connect not reject, we elevate our success even in the most challenges situations. Bayer’s Merger and Acquisition was one of the most successful in the industry. Rolf’s natural instincts to move from power-over to power-with conversations enabled a new level of connectivity, and collaboration for joining two companies for mutual gain.



The above article was originally posted on Huffington Post.  Take a look below at a reader submitted “Thinglink”

Conversational rituals that help you co-create with others …

Here are Conversational Intelligence Rituals.

You can architect and shape conversational space, and when you do, you open the space for more Level III conversations. This is when people are able to exercise Conversational Agility, and move in and out of Level I, II and III to sustain higher levels of understanding, innovation and co-creation.

Conversational Rituals include and are not limited to:

  • Setting Rules of Engagement
  • Double-clicking
  • Mapping Success
  • Looking Back to Look Forward

Conversational Intelligence has 5 skills that elevate it …

Here are five skills that elevate Conversational Intelligence

  • Being open to Influence: Many people err by spending most of their time describing their views of reality rather than learning how others assess a situation.
  • Listen to Connect: Rather than listening to judge or get your point in, listen to connect to others first.
  • Ask Questions for Which You have No Answers: Rather than asking leading questions, ask questions to open other to sharing their insights and perspectives.
  • Prime for Trust: When trust is low, take the time to focus on building trust.
    • Be Transparent
    • Focus on Relationship before task
    • Focus on Understanding where others are coming from
    • Focus on building a Shared success
    • Focus on Truth-telling and closing reality gaps
  • Sustain Conversational Agility – when you discover you are stuck in one level, Reframe, Refocus and Redirect

Conversational Intelligence has 5 mistakes that lower it…

Here are five mistakes that lower Conversational Intelligence.

  • Ignoring other perspectives: Many people err by spending most of their time describing their views of reality rather than learning how others assess a situation.
  • Fixation on “Being Right”: Neuroscientists are discovering that humans have a passion for being “right” – more than a passion – a compulsion. People “get high” on being right – and are rewarded individually for having “correct” answers. But, the more a speaker pushes his or her “reality,” the more the listeners will seek to protect their positions or points of view, which reduces their connection with others and raises the risk of conflict.
  • Tell-Sell-Yell: It’s a mistake to think that more talk always translates into better communication, understanding and influence. The truth is, the more we try to align others around “our” point of view, the more we create groupthink, resistance or grudging obedience driven by fear. To employees, this comes across as “my way or the highway.”
  • Allowing Emotions to Affect Listening: Every conversation has emotional content. Fearful listeners may misinterpret friendly advice or warnings as threats.
  • Disengaged Listeners: Those who nod their heads while others talk aren’t always paying attention. Leaders need to learn to practice engagement strategies with others to ensure they are truly connecting, sharing and learning.

Conversational Intelligence has…

Conversations Have Three Levels
Level I: Transactional… Confirming what we know
Overuse of Level I = Tell, Sell, Yell Syndrome

Level II: Positional… Defending what we know
Overuse of Level II = Addicted to Being Right  

Level III: Transformational… Discover what we don’t know we don’t know
Overuse of Level III = All talk and no action