Conversation is as vital as taking in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide to human existence. The moment we were born in this world conversations are already happening around us. Since it is a natural ingredient in human interactions and social relationships, people are usually not conscious about how it works: when it is effective and when it is not; what it’s supposed to accomplish and how it can be improved. Although our human construct is designed for community living, not all of us are good at it, especially in the area of constructive conversation. No organisation can exist nor thrive without conversation. Studies have proven that the success of an organisation hinges on the quality of communication it practices. The importance and value of team conversation cannot be over-emphasised in this setting. Utilising a structured and purposeful conversation underpins the success of team coaching. Without conversation no coaching can happen for it is in conversation that new ideas are generated, existing knowledge is conveyed and enhanced, significant changes are implemented, understanding is fostered and agreements are reached. What makes a structured and purposeful conversation helpful to team growth? 1. Clarity Coaching conversations are very intentional. There is a clear understanding of what the conversation will be about and what its structure will be even before the team starts to meet. Everyone involved is aware of their role and responsibility. Pre-assessment is taken to identify individual intentions and to clarify expectations. The team coach has a pre-knowledge of each team member’s personality and interests so that individual pursuits are aligned to the team’s objective which members are committed to pursue. Shared clarity within the team provides a clear vision of the desired coaching conversation outcome. 2. Focus, Active Listening, and Open-ended Questions Focus and active listening pertain to the full and sincere attention a coach lends to his/her team and that the members practice with each other. Giving focus to and actively listening to a conversation sends the message of interest, sincerity and open-mindedness. The coach and the members of the team not only internalise what is heard but also perceive non-verbal messages. Now and then the coach paraphrases statements for clarity, for identification of salient points, and to demonstrate interest. This conveys respect for each member’s uniqueness and gives value to their ideas that consequently strengthens relationships, encourages trust and transparency and promotes new ways of looking at things. Asking the right questions is key to successful coaching. Meaningful, informative and sensible answers are products of well-thought-out, open-ended and powerful questions. These questions are varied to meet individual learning styles. Questions like “What does that look like?”connects with those whose learning style is visual. Those who are comfortable with kinaesthetic learning will find meaning in questions like, “What does that feel like?” Rapport will be developed with someone who has an auditory learning style if you ask him questions such as: “What does that sound like?” Asking the right questions is like a password that opens a door to a treasury of ideas locked in a person’s mind. Once those thoughts are articulated, ownership is established. This sense of ownership gives a stronger incentive for that person to act on it rather than just being told to do so. It challenges people to do their best and to be accountable. 3. Empowered Team The team is empowered by asking and not directing. The conversation itself is collaboratively designed by the coach and the team. The coach avoids giving advice. Open-ended questions are used to ask about personal matters such as aspirations, career goals and struggles. By not acting like their manager the coach engages the team in deep thinking and in finding creative ways to tackle problems. The team is empowered to discover their capacity to come up with their own solutions and to accept the responsibility of implementing them. Team members are encouraged to listen intently to what others are saying and are discouraged from interrupting, from seeking attention to their own opinions, and from taking matters into their own hands. They learn how to communicate in such a way that they inspire others to bring to the table their own ideas. This kind of empowerment elevates the team members from being coachees to being coach-like in dealing with and in leading others. When a coach joins a team conversation s/he does not wear the hat of a boss. Instead, s/he brings him/herself in as a partner. S/he never sets the direction to where s/he wants the team to go, rather, s/he sets the sail to where the team is heading. Conversations afford the coach the opportunity to assist the team in focusing on their shared vision and in planning out their actions towards its fulfilment. 4. Valued Members Interest in and support for each other’s development is conveyed, pursued and followed up. It entails discovering what really drives each member and what their individual interests are. Their ideas are explicitly appreciated and cursory remarks are avoided as they only convey insincerity. As trust is built up and relationships are strengthened through the conversations, compassion and empathy are also developed among the team, making it easier for them to “put themselves in another’s shoes.” 5. A Positive Environment The conversation is started with a positive mindset and good intentions are presumed among the team. These set the mood of the conversation.When the disposition of the team becomes heavy the coach redirects the conversation through open-ended questions into discovering the brighter side of the issue involved. Open-ended questions express curiosity rather than judgement. Open-ended questions can move a person to see life from a better perspective. In a positive environment, competition is dispelled by encouraging the team to solve problems together. This presumption of good intention and the use of open-ended questions opens to everyone in the team a venue for honest exchange of ideas, reflections, and for building trust and confidence. It is also an opportunity for team members to vent their frustrations. 6. Reflective Feedback Feedback is information through which an organisation, a community or an individual learns to be more effective. But oftentimes feedback don’t turn out to be honest and well-meaning. Instead of strengthening partnerships, it drives people apart. Reflective feedback in team conversations is motivated by the objective of giving truthful and direct comments while at the same time preserving relationships. Feedback should be specific so that parties involved are clear about which idea or behaviour is being considered. Professor David Perkins, in his book: King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organisations, identifies three types of feedback: negative, conciliatory and communicative. Negative feedback is just words of dissatisfaction and frustration. Its only objective is to vent negative emotions that put the receiving person down. Conciliatory feedback is a convenient way to set aside the issue at hand. It is usually characterised by perfunctory remarks that lack the intention to guide the receiving party to an in-depth examination of the issue so that remedial actions can be undertaken. Communicative feedback clarifies issues and focuses on the value or potential value of the idea or behaviour being assessed. In this context, relationships are preserved because there is a space for honest dialogue to take place. Also, parties involved have opportunities to reflect on the process without defending themselves, arguing over the matter, or even evading the issue. This kind of feedback serves as the foundation on which suggestions that inspire actions for improvement are built. If we listen to a language we do not understand we are just hearing sounds. But when we listen to our native tongue we hear more than sounds: we discern feelings, we catch ideas, we are persuaded, we are insulted, we are loved and so much more. Through words we either feel significant or insignificant. And through words, we either accept or reject ourselves. A coaching conversation is not just a chat. It’s a product of man’s capacity to know his capabilities and to be creative about it. In coaching conversations man utilises the power of words to learn, to inspire, to discover, to share, to be aware, to grow, to prosper and to evolve. It is for committed individuals who want to make a difference not only in their lives but also in the communities where they belong. To learn more about Leadership Coaching and the benefits that it can bring to your business or team, contact the Australian Institute of Professional Coaches on 1300 309 360 or email email@example.com. We look forward to speaking with you soon.