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Conversational Capacity

One of my favorite business books in the past several years. A few simple concepts, well explained, and extremely practical. Here are a few of the key concepts:

  • It is useful to think in terms of the conversational capacity of a group (or of two people) - If a discussion exceeds the available conversational capacity, the discussion is like to be avoided, or it will tend to end up in an unproductive argument
  • To increase conversational capacity, participants in a discussion need to use both candor (explaining their positions and the assumptions / beliefs leading to those positions) and curiosity (questions about others' positions as well as openness to feedback about one's own position)
  • There is an important distinction between observable data (e.g., "you looked away when I brought up an idea at today's meeting") and the conclusions we draw (e.g., "you looked away because you were still made at me about the comment I made in last week's meeting and you wanted to upset me"). Often, we forget to check whether we agree about the observable data and about the assumptions that lead to the conclusions we have already made, decreasing our conversational capacity.