full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Adar Cohen: 3 ways to lead tough, unavoidable conversations

Unscramble the Blue Letters

I'm in a concrete maze the size of 72 football fields. I'm being led from checkpoint to checkpoint, and before each door oenps, the door behind me slams shut. The lock echoes while I'm searched and interviewed again. It's a maximum security jail, the largest in the country: the Cook County Jail, in Chicago, iolliins. "I'm here for the meeintg," I say again, raepet my credentials. It's my first time viinsitg a jail, and everyone can tell. They take my phone, they take my keys, and they take my little bag of almonds. Almonds! Finally, I'm left in a room with two men who stare at me as I enter. One is a gang leader, the other is a corrections officer, and each of them is the size of four of me, which basically means I'm outnumbered eight to one. Their arms are strapped across their chests, flashes of agner in their eyes - I'm tfiirreed and I'm thinking, They were worried about my almonds? (leaguhtr) The heavy door behind me salms shut. It's just the three of us now. No one moves. Now, who's had the very same experience? (Laughter) But whether you're a C-level ecxevtuie or a spouse or you're a part of any kind of team, you probably know this to be true: that one conversation can change everything. So I want you to think of a tough conversation that people around you need to have. You got it? There's some iusse that's holding them back from accomplishing what they want to accomplish. I believe they might be one conversation away from accomplishing that thing but they're not having the conversation they need to have, or they've tried and it hasn't gone well. I've led some pretty tough conversations in some pretty tough environments: Northern Ireland, the Middle East, corporate boardrooms. I actually have a PhD in leading difficult conversations, and here's what I've learned: We're not having the conversations we need to have. And that's mostly because we're afraid; we don't want to make things wrose. But not having these conversations or having them poorly is really bad. And most of us know this from our work. Some issue arises for a team - it could be a minor issue, but it goes unaddressed. Frustration sets in, communication constricts, tensions rise, trust evaporates, and collaboration is done. Remember, we're talking about teams that perform surgeries, land planes, run schools. Many of us are a part of taems that perform crucial functions. We can't afford to avoid tough cstoironaenvs. So that cositevnoarn that you thought of that people around you need to have, you can lead that conversation. And I'm going to give you three simple rules to being vtsaly more effective in leading it. Wherever you use these rules - at work, at home - people are going to thank you. And then, they'll start reaching goals they couldn't reach before, and they will come find you and thank you again, and you'll benefit because the people around you will be more successful, not miserable, which makes your life better. So, the three rules. Rule nmuebr one: move toward the conflict. Most of us don't like conflict, but it's normal, healthy and totally hmuan. Without conflict, problems hide everywhere - big problems, problems we all want to solve. So, conflict is information, and handled well, conflict is optnutirpoy. So rather than running from it or pretending it's not there, move toward it. More on this in a minute. But rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do, ptrened you don't. Ask questions about people's experiences and listen to what they say. Important things will be said because you are listening, and the better you ltiesn, the better the people having the conversation will listen to each other. And finally, rule three: keep quiet. Don't panic in the few seconds it takes for people to respond; they just need time. If you're jumpy about pauses, they'll see that and lose confidence in the conversation. Some of the best behakrhgtruos I've seen in really difficult conversations have emerged out of a brief period of silence. Don't rush in to rescue everyone from that awwkard moment. It's your job to show them that moment is OK. Now, let me tell you about some tough conversations where these three rules saved the day. We left off in the Cook County Jail, with an inmate population that has at times swelled to above 10,000. It's not an easy pacle to be. But getting released and not winding up back inside is also difficult. iaentms are rleeeasd into gang territory, often with no way to get home - if they have a home. And the berrrias to finding hnsuiog, employment and eiuatcodn are such that it's no wonder so many returned to the jail again and again, back through the system. So my team convened every stakeholder we could - former gang members, business leaders, corrections ofefcirs in the jail, social wrrokes, the sheriff's ocffie, clergy - to see if they could start working together. City officials werand me not to bring all of these groups together, but I felt no chance of success without having this tough conversation. Well, the first meeting came, and whatever I tried, nothing worked. The gprous wouldn't sit next to each other, wouldn't even look at each other. The gang laeder and the cnrroocetis officer I told you about, they were the first to arrive that day. This was the toughest conversation I've ever led. We take a break, and I'm desperate. I approach that corrections officer, who hasn't said a single word all morning, and I just go for it. I charge up to him, and I say, "Hey, buddy, what do I gotta do to get you to pipe down in there?" (Laughter) And he looks at me like - (Laughter) And I think I looked at him kind of like - (Laughter) Remember rule number one: move toward the conflict. Miraculously, he doesn't squish me. (Laughter) He actually laughs and says, "Nah, I'm not much for talking." But because I had mvoed toward the conflict and cleald out the obvious, I had a small opening with him, and the disastrous meeting was about to start again, and I needed something. I needed him. Rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do, pretend you don't. So I asked him, "What do people get wrong about what you do?" which is another way of asking, How are you misunderstood? I don't know. Tell me. Tell me what this is like for you. And his face changes. He looks like a different person. And he says, "People think that I feel normal about this, keeping people in cages all day. There's nothing nomral about my job." Back in the meeting, I ditch my agneda, and I ask the same question again, and I kept my eyes off the business leaders, and I avoided eye contact with the city officials, and I stared down my big buddy until he went for it. He shocked everyone, told them all just what he told me - there's nothing normal about my job - and it's a huge opening, and now others are rdeay to share. And because I don't know anything, I keep asking questions, and one by one, they all have their chance to describe everything about their day-to-day, minute-to-minute work, which means everyone is getting heard by everyone. My naive questions make it possible for them to hear one another because they're not addressing each other head on; they're answering my questions, but they're all hearing it. Rule number three: keep quiet. Especially when they satrt talking, it's tempting to deicrt the conversation. I didn't interfere, and they opened up collaboration that was ueeenrentpcdd in Chicago. The guards and the previously incarcerated, business leaders and faith leedras, all bringing their expertise together, joining forces so that inmates would have a mentor waiting for them and a job lined up before their release from jail - all as a result of that conversation. I'll give you one more. In Northern Ireland, for 30 years, bombs could rip through restaurants, bars and shops at any moment. vcolinee was everywhere. Shootings, abductions - ppleoe lived in fear. This period is known as "the Troubles." I led some tough conversations in Belfast, the epicenter of the fithingg. I remember these enormous murals, paintings of masked gunmen, one of them pointing a rlfie right down at you as you walked past. My job was to help ptoarnttess and Catholics, Loyalists and Republicans have some very duciflift conversations. We moved toward the conflict, rule number one, by rirceniutg men who had committed acts of political violence. During armed conflict, fighters become heroes, and afterward, they riamen influential, so we did everything we could to include them. Now, it would have been easier not to rceruit combatants: the atmosphere wouldn't have been as charged. But remember: move toward the conflict. Rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do ... (acneudie) Pretend you don't. pretend you don't. No advice from me, no commentary, no ideas - those are all sorht cuts, and the point here is to take the long way. The more I aeskd, the more they shared. The more they saherd, the more they listened. And the more they listened, the more they bagen to accept silence as a part of their experience. Which gets us to rule number three: keep quiet - show them that silence is OK, that it's acceptable. And what will heppan then is that the group will start to hear new voices. And often it's one of these voices that can bring about a breakthrough. And so, in one of these meetings, we suddenly heard from a man who hadn't spoken. He shared his eeirpcnxee as a nceomewr to baseflt, sitdnnag on a bus, exhausted after work, and suddenly being surrounded by a group of men. They came in really close, whispered hlorirbe trethas. They trapped him. And he explained how his heart pounded and he just gripped the rliiang of the bus and waetid until it stopped and he could dash out. He had feared for his life that day, he told the group, and he had hoped that iinatrgmimg to Northern irenald from smaolia would have been the end of having to fear for his life. The room fell totally qeuit. Everyone heard him. Protestants, Catholics - suddenly it didn't matter. "That's unacceptable," the first said. "That's not Belfast," said the second. "Not how we want it to be," says the third. Now, these are men who have taken lives, who have deesatvatd many families, in some cases their own, and now they start fnnihisig each other's sentences about tolerance, iliousncn and respect, and this builds and builds in the room until finally, I can't rssiet the irony, and so I announce, "Well, miiossn accomplished. Let's go to Disneyland!" And they all turn and stare at me and start laughing, all of them. They laughed hard for minutes, and what that laughter gave way to was a deeper discussion than they'd ever had before. They talked about what kind of future they all hoped for, for their kids and their grandkids. Now, here's the thing. Our man on the bus who experienced that terrifying moment, he might not have spoken if I had avoided the conflict, held forth with my own ideas and reuhsd to fill every silence. I moved toward the conflict. I didn't pemruse to know, which meant I kept asking questions. And for the most part, I kept quiet. These rlues helped him to speak, and these rules helped the group to hear him, and in the end, his stroy was just what they needed to hear to move forward together. One conversation can change everything. I think of the corrections oefifcr who said there's nothing normal about my job, and the opening that ceeatrd for the group. I think of the moment when he and the gang leader, at the end of that meeting, embraced one another and how powerful they became as pnearrts. I think of the men in Belfast who hid their faces in ski makss to bring gerat violence into each other's lievs. Today they know each other's fceas and first names; they were enemies and they're neighbors now. I think of the CEOs and htaelh care leaders and technology innovators I've seen transform their teams and reach their goals, all snitrtag with one conversation. I think of the lives saved, the jobs created, the dreams achieved. So back to your conversation, the one that people around you really need to have, the one that you can lead. It can feel like a cnotrece maze the size of 72 ftobolal fields, but there's almost always a way through, and you'll find the way through by moving toward the conflict, asking questions and keeping quiet. Conversations create the future. Whether or not we have them and how we have them is up to us. Thank you. (Applause)

Open Cloze

I'm in a concrete maze the size of 72 football fields. I'm being led from checkpoint to checkpoint, and before each door _____, the door behind me slams shut. The lock echoes while I'm searched and interviewed again. It's a maximum security jail, the largest in the country: the Cook County Jail, in Chicago, ________. "I'm here for the _______," I say again, ______ my credentials. It's my first time ________ a jail, and everyone can tell. They take my phone, they take my keys, and they take my little bag of almonds. Almonds! Finally, I'm left in a room with two men who stare at me as I enter. One is a gang leader, the other is a corrections officer, and each of them is the size of four of me, which basically means I'm outnumbered eight to one. Their arms are strapped across their chests, flashes of _____ in their eyes - I'm _________ and I'm thinking, They were worried about my almonds? (________) The heavy door behind me _____ shut. It's just the three of us now. No one moves. Now, who's had the very same experience? (Laughter) But whether you're a C-level _________ or a spouse or you're a part of any kind of team, you probably know this to be true: that one conversation can change everything. So I want you to think of a tough conversation that people around you need to have. You got it? There's some _____ that's holding them back from accomplishing what they want to accomplish. I believe they might be one conversation away from accomplishing that thing but they're not having the conversation they need to have, or they've tried and it hasn't gone well. I've led some pretty tough conversations in some pretty tough environments: Northern Ireland, the Middle East, corporate boardrooms. I actually have a PhD in leading difficult conversations, and here's what I've learned: We're not having the conversations we need to have. And that's mostly because we're afraid; we don't want to make things _____. But not having these conversations or having them poorly is really bad. And most of us know this from our work. Some issue arises for a team - it could be a minor issue, but it goes unaddressed. Frustration sets in, communication constricts, tensions rise, trust evaporates, and collaboration is done. Remember, we're talking about teams that perform surgeries, land planes, run schools. Many of us are a part of _____ that perform crucial functions. We can't afford to avoid tough _____________. So that ____________ that you thought of that people around you need to have, you can lead that conversation. And I'm going to give you three simple rules to being ______ more effective in leading it. Wherever you use these rules - at work, at home - people are going to thank you. And then, they'll start reaching goals they couldn't reach before, and they will come find you and thank you again, and you'll benefit because the people around you will be more successful, not miserable, which makes your life better. So, the three rules. Rule ______ one: move toward the conflict. Most of us don't like conflict, but it's normal, healthy and totally _____. Without conflict, problems hide everywhere - big problems, problems we all want to solve. So, conflict is information, and handled well, conflict is ___________. So rather than running from it or pretending it's not there, move toward it. More on this in a minute. But rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do, _______ you don't. Ask questions about people's experiences and listen to what they say. Important things will be said because you are listening, and the better you ______, the better the people having the conversation will listen to each other. And finally, rule three: keep quiet. Don't panic in the few seconds it takes for people to respond; they just need time. If you're jumpy about pauses, they'll see that and lose confidence in the conversation. Some of the best _____________ I've seen in really difficult conversations have emerged out of a brief period of silence. Don't rush in to rescue everyone from that _______ moment. It's your job to show them that moment is OK. Now, let me tell you about some tough conversations where these three rules saved the day. We left off in the Cook County Jail, with an inmate population that has at times swelled to above 10,000. It's not an easy _____ to be. But getting released and not winding up back inside is also difficult. _______ are ________ into gang territory, often with no way to get home - if they have a home. And the ________ to finding _______, employment and _________ are such that it's no wonder so many returned to the jail again and again, back through the system. So my team convened every stakeholder we could - former gang members, business leaders, corrections ________ in the jail, social _______, the sheriff's ______, clergy - to see if they could start working together. City officials ______ me not to bring all of these groups together, but I felt no chance of success without having this tough conversation. Well, the first meeting came, and whatever I tried, nothing worked. The ______ wouldn't sit next to each other, wouldn't even look at each other. The gang ______ and the ___________ officer I told you about, they were the first to arrive that day. This was the toughest conversation I've ever led. We take a break, and I'm desperate. I approach that corrections officer, who hasn't said a single word all morning, and I just go for it. I charge up to him, and I say, "Hey, buddy, what do I gotta do to get you to pipe down in there?" (Laughter) And he looks at me like - (Laughter) And I think I looked at him kind of like - (Laughter) Remember rule number one: move toward the conflict. Miraculously, he doesn't squish me. (Laughter) He actually laughs and says, "Nah, I'm not much for talking." But because I had _____ toward the conflict and ______ out the obvious, I had a small opening with him, and the disastrous meeting was about to start again, and I needed something. I needed him. Rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do, pretend you don't. So I asked him, "What do people get wrong about what you do?" which is another way of asking, How are you misunderstood? I don't know. Tell me. Tell me what this is like for you. And his face changes. He looks like a different person. And he says, "People think that I feel normal about this, keeping people in cages all day. There's nothing ______ about my job." Back in the meeting, I ditch my ______, and I ask the same question again, and I kept my eyes off the business leaders, and I avoided eye contact with the city officials, and I stared down my big buddy until he went for it. He shocked everyone, told them all just what he told me - there's nothing normal about my job - and it's a huge opening, and now others are _____ to share. And because I don't know anything, I keep asking questions, and one by one, they all have their chance to describe everything about their day-to-day, minute-to-minute work, which means everyone is getting heard by everyone. My naive questions make it possible for them to hear one another because they're not addressing each other head on; they're answering my questions, but they're all hearing it. Rule number three: keep quiet. Especially when they _____ talking, it's tempting to ______ the conversation. I didn't interfere, and they opened up collaboration that was _____________ in Chicago. The guards and the previously incarcerated, business leaders and faith _______, all bringing their expertise together, joining forces so that inmates would have a mentor waiting for them and a job lined up before their release from jail - all as a result of that conversation. I'll give you one more. In Northern Ireland, for 30 years, bombs could rip through restaurants, bars and shops at any moment. ________ was everywhere. Shootings, abductions - ______ lived in fear. This period is known as "the Troubles." I led some tough conversations in Belfast, the epicenter of the ________. I remember these enormous murals, paintings of masked gunmen, one of them pointing a _____ right down at you as you walked past. My job was to help ___________ and Catholics, Loyalists and Republicans have some very _________ conversations. We moved toward the conflict, rule number one, by __________ men who had committed acts of political violence. During armed conflict, fighters become heroes, and afterward, they ______ influential, so we did everything we could to include them. Now, it would have been easier not to _______ combatants: the atmosphere wouldn't have been as charged. But remember: move toward the conflict. Rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do ... (________) Pretend you don't. pretend you don't. No advice from me, no commentary, no ideas - those are all _____ cuts, and the point here is to take the long way. The more I _____, the more they shared. The more they ______, the more they listened. And the more they listened, the more they _____ to accept silence as a part of their experience. Which gets us to rule number three: keep quiet - show them that silence is OK, that it's acceptable. And what will ______ then is that the group will start to hear new voices. And often it's one of these voices that can bring about a breakthrough. And so, in one of these meetings, we suddenly heard from a man who hadn't spoken. He shared his __________ as a ________ to _______, ________ on a bus, exhausted after work, and suddenly being surrounded by a group of men. They came in really close, whispered ________ _______. They trapped him. And he explained how his heart pounded and he just gripped the _______ of the bus and ______ until it stopped and he could dash out. He had feared for his life that day, he told the group, and he had hoped that ___________ to Northern _______ from _______ would have been the end of having to fear for his life. The room fell totally _____. Everyone heard him. Protestants, Catholics - suddenly it didn't matter. "That's unacceptable," the first said. "That's not Belfast," said the second. "Not how we want it to be," says the third. Now, these are men who have taken lives, who have __________ many families, in some cases their own, and now they start _________ each other's sentences about tolerance, _________ and respect, and this builds and builds in the room until finally, I can't ______ the irony, and so I announce, "Well, _______ accomplished. Let's go to Disneyland!" And they all turn and stare at me and start laughing, all of them. They laughed hard for minutes, and what that laughter gave way to was a deeper discussion than they'd ever had before. They talked about what kind of future they all hoped for, for their kids and their grandkids. Now, here's the thing. Our man on the bus who experienced that terrifying moment, he might not have spoken if I had avoided the conflict, held forth with my own ideas and ______ to fill every silence. I moved toward the conflict. I didn't _______ to know, which meant I kept asking questions. And for the most part, I kept quiet. These _____ helped him to speak, and these rules helped the group to hear him, and in the end, his _____ was just what they needed to hear to move forward together. One conversation can change everything. I think of the corrections _______ who said there's nothing normal about my job, and the opening that _______ for the group. I think of the moment when he and the gang leader, at the end of that meeting, embraced one another and how powerful they became as ________. I think of the men in Belfast who hid their faces in ski _____ to bring _____ violence into each other's _____. Today they know each other's _____ and first names; they were enemies and they're neighbors now. I think of the CEOs and ______ care leaders and technology innovators I've seen transform their teams and reach their goals, all ________ with one conversation. I think of the lives saved, the jobs created, the dreams achieved. So back to your conversation, the one that people around you really need to have, the one that you can lead. It can feel like a ________ maze the size of 72 ________ fields, but there's almost always a way through, and you'll find the way through by moving toward the conflict, asking questions and keeping quiet. Conversations create the future. Whether or not we have them and how we have them is up to us. Thank you. (Applause)

Solution

  1. breakthroughs
  2. slams
  3. human
  4. visiting
  5. story
  6. normal
  7. recruit
  8. masks
  9. finishing
  10. football
  11. shared
  12. opens
  13. start
  14. created
  15. inclusion
  16. housing
  17. remain
  18. direct
  19. violence
  20. health
  21. audience
  22. recruiting
  23. moved
  24. opportunity
  25. great
  26. workers
  27. concrete
  28. difficult
  29. agenda
  30. starting
  31. officers
  32. standing
  33. teams
  34. issue
  35. ireland
  36. illinois
  37. protestants
  38. education
  39. belfast
  40. terrified
  41. rifle
  42. number
  43. released
  44. somalia
  45. conversation
  46. asked
  47. awkward
  48. corrections
  49. resist
  50. experience
  51. unprecedented
  52. rushed
  53. place
  54. horrible
  55. inmates
  56. conversations
  57. worse
  58. laughter
  59. people
  60. happen
  61. warned
  62. presume
  63. meeting
  64. devastated
  65. faces
  66. officer
  67. short
  68. groups
  69. pretend
  70. rules
  71. partners
  72. leader
  73. leaders
  74. office
  75. quiet
  76. repeat
  77. immigrating
  78. railing
  79. executive
  80. newcomer
  81. waited
  82. vastly
  83. fighting
  84. threats
  85. mission
  86. began
  87. ready
  88. anger
  89. lives
  90. called
  91. listen
  92. barriers

Original Text

I'm in a concrete maze the size of 72 football fields. I'm being led from checkpoint to checkpoint, and before each door opens, the door behind me slams shut. The lock echoes while I'm searched and interviewed again. It's a maximum security jail, the largest in the country: the Cook County Jail, in Chicago, Illinois. "I'm here for the meeting," I say again, repeat my credentials. It's my first time visiting a jail, and everyone can tell. They take my phone, they take my keys, and they take my little bag of almonds. Almonds! Finally, I'm left in a room with two men who stare at me as I enter. One is a gang leader, the other is a corrections officer, and each of them is the size of four of me, which basically means I'm outnumbered eight to one. Their arms are strapped across their chests, flashes of anger in their eyes - I'm terrified and I'm thinking, They were worried about my almonds? (Laughter) The heavy door behind me slams shut. It's just the three of us now. No one moves. Now, who's had the very same experience? (Laughter) But whether you're a C-level executive or a spouse or you're a part of any kind of team, you probably know this to be true: that one conversation can change everything. So I want you to think of a tough conversation that people around you need to have. You got it? There's some issue that's holding them back from accomplishing what they want to accomplish. I believe they might be one conversation away from accomplishing that thing but they're not having the conversation they need to have, or they've tried and it hasn't gone well. I've led some pretty tough conversations in some pretty tough environments: Northern Ireland, the Middle East, corporate boardrooms. I actually have a PhD in leading difficult conversations, and here's what I've learned: We're not having the conversations we need to have. And that's mostly because we're afraid; we don't want to make things worse. But not having these conversations or having them poorly is really bad. And most of us know this from our work. Some issue arises for a team - it could be a minor issue, but it goes unaddressed. Frustration sets in, communication constricts, tensions rise, trust evaporates, and collaboration is done. Remember, we're talking about teams that perform surgeries, land planes, run schools. Many of us are a part of teams that perform crucial functions. We can't afford to avoid tough conversations. So that conversation that you thought of that people around you need to have, you can lead that conversation. And I'm going to give you three simple rules to being vastly more effective in leading it. Wherever you use these rules - at work, at home - people are going to thank you. And then, they'll start reaching goals they couldn't reach before, and they will come find you and thank you again, and you'll benefit because the people around you will be more successful, not miserable, which makes your life better. So, the three rules. Rule number one: move toward the conflict. Most of us don't like conflict, but it's normal, healthy and totally human. Without conflict, problems hide everywhere - big problems, problems we all want to solve. So, conflict is information, and handled well, conflict is opportunity. So rather than running from it or pretending it's not there, move toward it. More on this in a minute. But rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do, pretend you don't. Ask questions about people's experiences and listen to what they say. Important things will be said because you are listening, and the better you listen, the better the people having the conversation will listen to each other. And finally, rule three: keep quiet. Don't panic in the few seconds it takes for people to respond; they just need time. If you're jumpy about pauses, they'll see that and lose confidence in the conversation. Some of the best breakthroughs I've seen in really difficult conversations have emerged out of a brief period of silence. Don't rush in to rescue everyone from that awkward moment. It's your job to show them that moment is OK. Now, let me tell you about some tough conversations where these three rules saved the day. We left off in the Cook County Jail, with an inmate population that has at times swelled to above 10,000. It's not an easy place to be. But getting released and not winding up back inside is also difficult. Inmates are released into gang territory, often with no way to get home - if they have a home. And the barriers to finding housing, employment and education are such that it's no wonder so many returned to the jail again and again, back through the system. So my team convened every stakeholder we could - former gang members, business leaders, corrections officers in the jail, social workers, the sheriff's office, clergy - to see if they could start working together. City officials warned me not to bring all of these groups together, but I felt no chance of success without having this tough conversation. Well, the first meeting came, and whatever I tried, nothing worked. The groups wouldn't sit next to each other, wouldn't even look at each other. The gang leader and the corrections officer I told you about, they were the first to arrive that day. This was the toughest conversation I've ever led. We take a break, and I'm desperate. I approach that corrections officer, who hasn't said a single word all morning, and I just go for it. I charge up to him, and I say, "Hey, buddy, what do I gotta do to get you to pipe down in there?" (Laughter) And he looks at me like - (Laughter) And I think I looked at him kind of like - (Laughter) Remember rule number one: move toward the conflict. Miraculously, he doesn't squish me. (Laughter) He actually laughs and says, "Nah, I'm not much for talking." But because I had moved toward the conflict and called out the obvious, I had a small opening with him, and the disastrous meeting was about to start again, and I needed something. I needed him. Rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do, pretend you don't. So I asked him, "What do people get wrong about what you do?" which is another way of asking, How are you misunderstood? I don't know. Tell me. Tell me what this is like for you. And his face changes. He looks like a different person. And he says, "People think that I feel normal about this, keeping people in cages all day. There's nothing normal about my job." Back in the meeting, I ditch my agenda, and I ask the same question again, and I kept my eyes off the business leaders, and I avoided eye contact with the city officials, and I stared down my big buddy until he went for it. He shocked everyone, told them all just what he told me - there's nothing normal about my job - and it's a huge opening, and now others are ready to share. And because I don't know anything, I keep asking questions, and one by one, they all have their chance to describe everything about their day-to-day, minute-to-minute work, which means everyone is getting heard by everyone. My naive questions make it possible for them to hear one another because they're not addressing each other head on; they're answering my questions, but they're all hearing it. Rule number three: keep quiet. Especially when they start talking, it's tempting to direct the conversation. I didn't interfere, and they opened up collaboration that was unprecedented in Chicago. The guards and the previously incarcerated, business leaders and faith leaders, all bringing their expertise together, joining forces so that inmates would have a mentor waiting for them and a job lined up before their release from jail - all as a result of that conversation. I'll give you one more. In Northern Ireland, for 30 years, bombs could rip through restaurants, bars and shops at any moment. Violence was everywhere. Shootings, abductions - people lived in fear. This period is known as "the Troubles." I led some tough conversations in Belfast, the epicenter of the fighting. I remember these enormous murals, paintings of masked gunmen, one of them pointing a rifle right down at you as you walked past. My job was to help Protestants and Catholics, Loyalists and Republicans have some very difficult conversations. We moved toward the conflict, rule number one, by recruiting men who had committed acts of political violence. During armed conflict, fighters become heroes, and afterward, they remain influential, so we did everything we could to include them. Now, it would have been easier not to recruit combatants: the atmosphere wouldn't have been as charged. But remember: move toward the conflict. Rule number two: you don't know anything, and even if you do ... (Audience) Pretend you don't. pretend you don't. No advice from me, no commentary, no ideas - those are all short cuts, and the point here is to take the long way. The more I asked, the more they shared. The more they shared, the more they listened. And the more they listened, the more they began to accept silence as a part of their experience. Which gets us to rule number three: keep quiet - show them that silence is OK, that it's acceptable. And what will happen then is that the group will start to hear new voices. And often it's one of these voices that can bring about a breakthrough. And so, in one of these meetings, we suddenly heard from a man who hadn't spoken. He shared his experience as a newcomer to Belfast, standing on a bus, exhausted after work, and suddenly being surrounded by a group of men. They came in really close, whispered horrible threats. They trapped him. And he explained how his heart pounded and he just gripped the railing of the bus and waited until it stopped and he could dash out. He had feared for his life that day, he told the group, and he had hoped that immigrating to Northern Ireland from Somalia would have been the end of having to fear for his life. The room fell totally quiet. Everyone heard him. Protestants, Catholics - suddenly it didn't matter. "That's unacceptable," the first said. "That's not Belfast," said the second. "Not how we want it to be," says the third. Now, these are men who have taken lives, who have devastated many families, in some cases their own, and now they start finishing each other's sentences about tolerance, inclusion and respect, and this builds and builds in the room until finally, I can't resist the irony, and so I announce, "Well, mission accomplished. Let's go to Disneyland!" And they all turn and stare at me and start laughing, all of them. They laughed hard for minutes, and what that laughter gave way to was a deeper discussion than they'd ever had before. They talked about what kind of future they all hoped for, for their kids and their grandkids. Now, here's the thing. Our man on the bus who experienced that terrifying moment, he might not have spoken if I had avoided the conflict, held forth with my own ideas and rushed to fill every silence. I moved toward the conflict. I didn't presume to know, which meant I kept asking questions. And for the most part, I kept quiet. These rules helped him to speak, and these rules helped the group to hear him, and in the end, his story was just what they needed to hear to move forward together. One conversation can change everything. I think of the corrections officer who said there's nothing normal about my job, and the opening that created for the group. I think of the moment when he and the gang leader, at the end of that meeting, embraced one another and how powerful they became as partners. I think of the men in Belfast who hid their faces in ski masks to bring great violence into each other's lives. Today they know each other's faces and first names; they were enemies and they're neighbors now. I think of the CEOs and health care leaders and technology innovators I've seen transform their teams and reach their goals, all starting with one conversation. I think of the lives saved, the jobs created, the dreams achieved. So back to your conversation, the one that people around you really need to have, the one that you can lead. It can feel like a concrete maze the size of 72 football fields, but there's almost always a way through, and you'll find the way through by moving toward the conflict, asking questions and keeping quiet. Conversations create the future. Whether or not we have them and how we have them is up to us. Thank you. (Applause)

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
rule number 8
tough conversations 4
concrete maze 2
slams shut 2
cook county 2
tough conversation 2
pretty tough 2
difficult conversations 2
corrections officer 2
rules helped 2

Important Words

  1. abductions
  2. accept
  3. acceptable
  4. accomplish
  5. accomplished
  6. accomplishing
  7. achieved
  8. acts
  9. addressing
  10. advice
  11. afford
  12. afterward
  13. agenda
  14. almonds
  15. anger
  16. announce
  17. answering
  18. applause
  19. approach
  20. arises
  21. armed
  22. arms
  23. arrive
  24. asked
  25. atmosphere
  26. audience
  27. avoid
  28. avoided
  29. awkward
  30. bad
  31. bag
  32. barriers
  33. bars
  34. basically
  35. began
  36. belfast
  37. benefit
  38. big
  39. boardrooms
  40. bombs
  41. break
  42. breakthrough
  43. breakthroughs
  44. bring
  45. bringing
  46. buddy
  47. builds
  48. bus
  49. business
  50. cages
  51. called
  52. care
  53. cases
  54. catholics
  55. ceos
  56. chance
  57. change
  58. charge
  59. charged
  60. checkpoint
  61. chests
  62. chicago
  63. city
  64. clergy
  65. close
  66. collaboration
  67. commentary
  68. committed
  69. communication
  70. concrete
  71. confidence
  72. conflict
  73. constricts
  74. contact
  75. convened
  76. conversation
  77. conversations
  78. cook
  79. corporate
  80. corrections
  81. county
  82. create
  83. created
  84. credentials
  85. crucial
  86. cuts
  87. dash
  88. day
  89. deeper
  90. describe
  91. desperate
  92. devastated
  93. difficult
  94. direct
  95. disastrous
  96. discussion
  97. ditch
  98. door
  99. dreams
  100. easier
  101. east
  102. easy
  103. echoes
  104. education
  105. effective
  106. embraced
  107. emerged
  108. employment
  109. enemies
  110. enormous
  111. enter
  112. epicenter
  113. evaporates
  114. executive
  115. exhausted
  116. experience
  117. experienced
  118. experiences
  119. expertise
  120. explained
  121. eye
  122. eyes
  123. face
  124. faces
  125. faith
  126. families
  127. fear
  128. feared
  129. feel
  130. fell
  131. felt
  132. fields
  133. fighters
  134. fighting
  135. fill
  136. finally
  137. find
  138. finding
  139. finishing
  140. flashes
  141. football
  142. forces
  143. frustration
  144. functions
  145. future
  146. gang
  147. gave
  148. give
  149. goals
  150. gotta
  151. grandkids
  152. great
  153. gripped
  154. group
  155. groups
  156. guards
  157. gunmen
  158. handled
  159. happen
  160. hard
  161. head
  162. health
  163. healthy
  164. hear
  165. heard
  166. hearing
  167. heart
  168. heavy
  169. held
  170. helped
  171. heroes
  172. hid
  173. hide
  174. holding
  175. home
  176. hoped
  177. horrible
  178. housing
  179. huge
  180. human
  181. ideas
  182. illinois
  183. immigrating
  184. important
  185. incarcerated
  186. include
  187. inclusion
  188. influential
  189. information
  190. inmate
  191. inmates
  192. innovators
  193. interfere
  194. interviewed
  195. ireland
  196. irony
  197. issue
  198. jail
  199. job
  200. jobs
  201. joining
  202. jumpy
  203. keeping
  204. keys
  205. kids
  206. kind
  207. land
  208. largest
  209. laughed
  210. laughing
  211. laughs
  212. laughter
  213. lead
  214. leader
  215. leaders
  216. leading
  217. led
  218. left
  219. life
  220. lined
  221. listen
  222. listened
  223. listening
  224. lived
  225. lives
  226. lock
  227. long
  228. looked
  229. lose
  230. loyalists
  231. man
  232. masked
  233. masks
  234. matter
  235. maximum
  236. maze
  237. means
  238. meant
  239. meeting
  240. meetings
  241. members
  242. men
  243. mentor
  244. middle
  245. minor
  246. minute
  247. minutes
  248. miraculously
  249. miserable
  250. mission
  251. misunderstood
  252. moment
  253. morning
  254. move
  255. moved
  256. moves
  257. moving
  258. murals
  259. naive
  260. needed
  261. neighbors
  262. newcomer
  263. normal
  264. northern
  265. number
  266. obvious
  267. office
  268. officer
  269. officers
  270. officials
  271. opened
  272. opening
  273. opens
  274. opportunity
  275. outnumbered
  276. paintings
  277. panic
  278. part
  279. partners
  280. pauses
  281. people
  282. perform
  283. period
  284. person
  285. phd
  286. phone
  287. pipe
  288. place
  289. planes
  290. point
  291. pointing
  292. political
  293. poorly
  294. population
  295. pounded
  296. powerful
  297. presume
  298. pretend
  299. pretending
  300. pretty
  301. previously
  302. problems
  303. protestants
  304. question
  305. questions
  306. quiet
  307. railing
  308. reach
  309. reaching
  310. ready
  311. recruit
  312. recruiting
  313. release
  314. released
  315. remain
  316. remember
  317. repeat
  318. republicans
  319. rescue
  320. resist
  321. respect
  322. restaurants
  323. result
  324. returned
  325. rifle
  326. rip
  327. rise
  328. room
  329. rule
  330. rules
  331. run
  332. running
  333. rush
  334. rushed
  335. saved
  336. schools
  337. searched
  338. seconds
  339. security
  340. sentences
  341. sets
  342. share
  343. shared
  344. shocked
  345. shootings
  346. shops
  347. short
  348. show
  349. shut
  350. silence
  351. simple
  352. single
  353. sit
  354. size
  355. ski
  356. slams
  357. small
  358. social
  359. solve
  360. somalia
  361. speak
  362. spoken
  363. spouse
  364. squish
  365. stakeholder
  366. standing
  367. stare
  368. stared
  369. start
  370. starting
  371. stopped
  372. story
  373. strapped
  374. success
  375. successful
  376. suddenly
  377. surgeries
  378. surrounded
  379. swelled
  380. system
  381. takes
  382. talked
  383. talking
  384. team
  385. teams
  386. technology
  387. tempting
  388. tensions
  389. terrified
  390. terrifying
  391. territory
  392. thinking
  393. thought
  394. threats
  395. time
  396. times
  397. today
  398. told
  399. tolerance
  400. totally
  401. tough
  402. toughest
  403. transform
  404. trapped
  405. troubles
  406. trust
  407. turn
  408. unacceptable
  409. unaddressed
  410. unprecedented
  411. vastly
  412. violence
  413. visiting
  414. voices
  415. waited
  416. waiting
  417. walked
  418. warned
  419. whispered
  420. winding
  421. word
  422. work
  423. worked
  424. workers
  425. working
  426. worried
  427. worse
  428. wrong
  429. years