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How Leaders Can Navigate Politicized Conversations and Inspire Collaboration

From Kristen Senz, writing for the Harvard Business School:

New research sheds light on implications of using politically correct and incorrect speech and identifies five techniques to increase persuasiveness and diffuse conflict.

Insights from two recent studies in an emerging field—the psychology of conversation—are aimed at organizational leaders interested in improving their conversation styles to create higher quality collaboration.

Francesca Gino, the Tandon Family Professor at Harvard Business School and author of Rebel Talent, began researching the conversation styles of effective leaders after hearing from many top executives about the importance of collaboration. Leaders often wish they could improve the way they collaborate, starting with how they approach working with others, she says.

“Leaders tend to dominate the conversation; they don’t listen and shut down others’ ideas,” Gino wrote in a recent email exchange. “Consequently, the other members of the collaboration are often too afraid, or simply too bored and disengaged, to contribute their own thoughts.”

Because conversations are at the heart of collaboration, and because the topic of politically-tinged speech is so ubiquitous in the media, Gino and her colleagues decided to structure a series of studies to figure out first what politically correct and incorrect language is, and then how it affects people’s perspectives of speakers in conversation. The results were shared in the study, Tell It Like It Is: When Politically Incorrect Language Promotes Authenticity, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in July 2020.

A separate study looks at “conversational receptiveness” and identifies a specific recipe for receptiveness that leaders and others can follow to improve collaborations and interpersonal interactions in general.

“Conversational receptiveness involves using language that signals a person is truly interested in another’s perspective,” Gino explains. And while it might sound straightforward, she says, “Sometimes we believe we are being receptive when in fact we are doing just the opposite: being on the defensive.”

Taken together, the findings of the two studies can help business leaders both communicate and listen more effectively in this emotionally charged environment.

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