Jim McCann: Ten principle for mastering conversation leadership

In our increasingly digital world, meaningful conversation has become a scarcity. However, for those in leadership, discovering the lost art of conversation has perhaps never been more critical.

To harness the power of conversation to strengthen and grow your organization, practice these 10 principles:


1. Converse — even if you think you can’t.

You need not be born as an expert conversationalist. Conversation leadership can be learned and practiced. What’s more, this skill is essential to effective leadership. Practice your conversation skills by beginning conversations with others and seeing them through.


2. Converse across hierarchies.

It is critical that you step outside of your zone to talk to people you oversee — as well as those you answer to. These conversations can lead to valuable insights from different perspectives. Cross hierarchies, silos and barriers to talk to others, and then integrate what you learn into your peer conversations.


3. Converse for intimacy, not efficiency.

If you’re watching the clock, you’re not conversing. Speed encourages an efficient exchange of information, but unhurried conversation bonds individuals and reveals truths. To engage in meaningful conversation, stop watching the clock.

4. Converse as though you are sitting at your kitchen table.

Many of the important conversations had at home offer lessons that can be applied to a business setting as well. Use what you learn at home — such as how to honor traditions, manage conflict and hear both good and bad news — to make your business conversations meaningful.


5. Converse across mediums.

Do not ignore any medium where conversation is happening; instead, embrace it. And beyond that, keep your ears attuned to where the conversation will migrate next.


6. Never stop learning.

Converse with others and watch skilled conversationalists in action as a way to continue learning and growing.


7. The world is our job.

We are part of the matrix that knits humanity together, and we belong in the debates that shape our world. Engage in the global conversation by conversing with people from around the world and exploring other countries as often as possible.


8. The community conversation is ongoing.

Conversation is going on in the communities around you. If you are not participating, you are more than quiet; to the consumer, you are aloof, even uncaring. Engagement is not just an opportunity, it’s a demand. Be sure that you are participating in the community conversation.

9. Time isn’t money; connection is.

Far too often, we assume in business that the bottom line is the driver of all interactions. Everyone wants a great price, it’s true; but everyone needs interaction and connection. Keep your attention focused in the right place: building connections.


10. The best offense is a good conversation.

It’s natural when under attack to want to circle the wagons and go into battle mode. But conversation with an outsider — an individual who can keep emotion out of the discussion and give you the perspective you need to make the best choice — may help you see a new way forward. Call on those outsiders for honest conversations about how to best move forward.


You don’t need an innate gift of gab to put these principles into action. Practice starting and maintaining the conversation, and observe what important insights come to light. As a leader, conversation is a skill you cannot afford to overlook.


Jim McCann is the founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com and author of the new book, “Talk is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership.” A successful entrepreneur and public speaker, McCann’s passion is helping people deliver smiles. His belief in the universal need for social connections and interaction led to his founding of 1-800-Flowers.com, which he has grown into the world’s leading florist and gift shop, and Celebrations.com, a leading website for expert party planning content and advice.