The power of “improvisational conversations” to influence others

Dennis Sparks

Genuine influence seldom occurs when administrators or teacher leaders direct others to think or act in specific ways.

Nor, contrary to common practice, does it usually occur by building a logical case for change through research and other evidence, although evidence and logic may be part of the influencing process.

Instead, genuine and lasting influence begins by seeking to deeply understand the perspectives and experiences of those we are trying to influence.

Such understanding, and the empathy it creates, requires attentive, sustained, and nonjudgmental listening for the purpose of “seeking first to understand.”

Put another way, influence has at its core improvisational conversations that produce shared understanding and mutual respect, conversations that are as likely to spontaneously occur in hallways as in meeting rooms.

Steve Yastrow, in an interview with Skip Prichard about his book, Ditch the Pitch, emphasizes the value of improvisational conversations that are fresh, meaningful, and relevant.

“The most developed human improvisational skill is conversation,” Yastrow says. “Notice the social conversations you have; they are all created on the spot, in the moment, based on what happens in that particular interaction….”

Yastrow adds: “Everyone reading this interview is knowledgeable and expert about what they sell. Inevitably, this expertise helps us quickly diagnose customer situations and develop solutions. The problem is that we will always devise these solutions before our customers are ready to hear them, and if we tell them to our customers too soon we will overwhelm them.  The idea is to be patient and bring information into your persuasive conversation at a pace your customer can accept.”

Substituting “persuade” for “sell” and “teachers” or “students” for “customers” reveals a valuable insight for administrators and teacher leaders: Leaders too often overwhelm people with their solutions before others in the school community fully understand the problem, yet alone the viable options for its solution.

What has been your experience: Are improvisational conversations effective in influencing others, perhaps even more so that “logical” presentations of “facts” and research?

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