Conversational Comfort isn’t important.

Got an email yesterday from a person that has frustrated me for years. Mostly because of the very topic of yesterday’s blog. He responded to the blog saying “comfort isn’t important in conversations.” I realized that I had written yesterday’s blog in part because of my many interactions with this person.

I realized as I read through his response to my initial response that in fact the reality is there is a pattern and an anti-pattern here. One that I hadn’t seen or realized before. The interesting reality about this particular set of patterns and anti-patterns.

The easy part is identifying the two patterns. One is the consensus builder. They make sure the conversation comfort is at the right level for everyone and that the process is moving forward. They build a team to consensus. The second pattern is the leader pattern.

Our problem in this is that the two patterns can produce any number of anti-patterns including two that I have never talked about before. The first is perhaps the hardest anti-pattern to deal with depending upon where they are in the project.

If this person is the leader of a project you are in trouble. If this person is the business owner of a project you are dead. It is the “my way or the highway” anti-pattern.

The other anti-patterns that emerge from these two patterns are not as dangerous as “My way or the highway is.” You see the other side of MWOTH is they don’t care about conversational comfort and they don’t build consensus. They are usually Brilliant and often right but when you discount the wake they leave, they have a bigger negative than positive impact.

Business leaders may see them as “A” players because they get results. But they ride the backs of other ideas and ultimately they destroy those around them. The other anti-patterns are less impactful but you still need to pay attention to them.

If there isn’t a good level of conversational comfort the bump in the road anti-pattern will appear. You drive differently on a road with speed bumps. The same is true for the speed of a conversation. The bumps will appear as innocent questions that open into rat holes. One in a meeting is normal. If one person brings up more than one they are uncomfortable in the conversation and looking to derail the conversation. The speed bump anti-pattern may require you to back up and figure out why the person is uncomfortable.

Another anti-pattern that occurs is the side meeting. Where members of your meeting, not comfortable with speaking in your meeting or the conversational comfort level, pull off and hold a side meeting. Dangerous because it undermines the conversation in your meeting. Dangerous because it means that you didn’t have a good level of comfort in the conversation.

If your goal is conversation comfort you have to make sure everyone is engaged and involved. You can’t leave people by the side of the road. You can’t slow down for speed bumps, you have to quickly pull them off the road and move forward. The very comfort developed in the conversation is to be nourished and encouraged.

So, as I told my long time nemesis about communication, if you don’t have conversational comfort, you run the huge risk of burgeoning anti-patterns. Your project, your concept and your dream will be derailed. It will eventually, after modification and assimilation become the idea of the extremely strong, and extremely dangerous My way or the Highway anti-pattern person.


Communications wanderer