Sometimes the applications of your own research come to you in the most surprising ways.
Last week a colleague, David Elliot, who is familiar with my work on imagined conversations in the workplace sent me a story about how he used it in practice. He was in Boston training a group of 20 young political advocates on how to make a pitch to the media. His organization, Fair Share, is launching an advocacy campaign against federal education budget cuts.
As any good communications professional would do, he prepared a script or “pitch” for the young advocates. Scripted pitches help advocates make key points when they are talking to reporters. During the training, they broke up into small groups and the advocates-in-training rehearsed their pitches with each other. As he walked around listening to them practice, he noticed their pitches sounded flat. They sounded as if they were reading a script they had memorized.
So he brought them back together into one large group and challenged them. He told them about my work around imagined conversations and assigned them the task of spending the next 48 hours having imagined conversation involving them and the reporter they would be pitching the following week. Advising them based on what we know about visualization and conversational preparation, he suggested their imagined conversations include aspects like:
- How will your voice sound?
- How will you change the script in order to put it in your own words, in order to "own" it?
- How will your voice rise and fall as you make key points?
- How will you handled unexpected questions from the reporter?
My colleague let the trainees know that these kind of imagined conversations prior to important speaking events are a way that we can rehearse the scene and improve our confidence. Mental preparation, he reminded them, helps us to improvise in the moment to make our best pitch for what we believe.
As a researcher, I’m inspired by this application of my work. These young advocates are getting ready to speak out for what they believe. Good luck advocates-in-training! May your real-life pitches be as successful as you imagined!
An earlier Foresight Blog posting introduced the idea of imagined conversations that we have in our minds with people from our real-life, including our coworkers. During these imagined conversations, we are talking with our boss, peers or subordinates about all sorts of topics related to actual situations at work.
Many people have asked me whether work-related imagined conversations are helpful or harmful. My response: it isn’t that clear cut. Having conducted research on the topic and talked with many clients about their actual imagined conversations, my conclusion is that they can be helpful or harmful depending on the situation.
For example, in my research the majority of the people said that they felt negative emotions during their work-related imagined conversations. But, importantly, a sizable portion experienced mostly positive emotions (21%) or a mixture of positive and negative emotions (18%). In order to shed more light on the positive aspects of imagined conversations, I took a closer look at the stories told by the people who experienced positive emotions.
In June I presented the results of this data analysis at the 3rd International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) World Congress. The findings suggests that we may be able to do our jobs better when we imagine conversations with our coworkers. People can flourish at work by invoking imagined conversations that feel emotionally positive, nurture relationships, and support accomplishment of one’s job.
Specifically, the people who mentally rehearsed work-related conversations in advance of a difficult conversation reported that they developed more conversational options, were more prepared, and had a sense of greater competence to perform their job. Imagined conversations helped them feel more confident, focused, thoughtful, organized, effective, and able to achieve desired outcomes. Through imagined conversations they became more in touch with their thoughts and assumptions about their coworkers, increasing their ability to sensitively communicate.
Ultimately, the goal is to have effective, productive workplace relationships and imagined conversations are one technique that can help people accomplish this.
Can you remember a positive work-related imagined conversation, or a time when you felt you accomplished your job better by mentally rehearsing a conversation? I invite you to share your story in the comments section.
Have you ever found yourself imagining a conversation in your head with someone from your workplace? In this conversation, you may be reliving or replaying a conversation that took place, remembering what you said and what the other person said. Or, you may be imagining a conversation before it takes place, mentally rehearsing and preparing for an upcoming meeting. Or, you may be imagining yourself saying things to a coworker that you would never say in real life.
These are imagined conversations: conversations that take place in our minds with people from our real-life. During these imagined conversations, you mentally play the role of yourself and the other person, imaging what each of you would say and how you would react.
Last year, 88 managers and leaders participated in my research project about imagined conversations at work. All of them were able to remember a recent imagined conversation with a coworker. During these imagined work-related conversations, they were most often talking in their head to their boss, but frequently they were talking to a subordinate or a peer. The topics of these imagined conversations were things like: lack of work getting accomplished, work schedules and absences, conflict between staff members, bringing a problem to the boss, division of work duties, and customer complaints.
These imagined conversations reflect the emotional and relational complexities of today’s work environment. Working with others can difficult and we are challenged to collaborate with each other as well have tough conversations, give honest feedback, and manage workplace conflicts. All of these situations can be triggers for imagined conversations. Through these imagined conversations, we can better understand ourselves, our situation, and our coworkers.
One of the goals of Foresight Coaching is to raise awareness of the many hidden aspects of workplace relationship dynamics, including imagined conversations. These hidden dynamics are mirrors of our real-life workplace relationships with coworkers. Paying more attention to our imagined conversations can be an important leadership development tool for greater awareness of our thoughts, our emotions, our motivations, and our word choices.