How many conversations have you had over the last week? Heck, how many conversations have you had over the last 24 hours? Chances are, you don’t know. Leaders have so many conversations, it’s impossible to keep track of just how many.

Conversations are just one part of the superpower habit of communication and they’re a great place to practice the keystone habit I’ll cover this week.

To get there, sit back, relax and let me tell you a story about one leader I’ve been coaching recently. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him John.

John is a senior leader with responsibility for delivering multi-million $ projects to large global clients. The projects relate to complex technical issues and are fraught with difficulty. No surprise there!

When we first started working together John was seriously frustrated and stressed – with clients, with his team, with his boss, with himself. Problems were piling up and projects were over-running both in terms of time and budget. Every meeting was a battle of wills and conflict was growing. John had started to feel physically sick when he had to attend client meetings and project updates.

Conversations were affecting his mental well-being and both his personal and business life.

Keystone habits start a positive chain reaction

This wasn’t going to be a quick-fix and there were no magic wands. But there was a powerful keystone habit that John could introduce to start a positive chain reaction and, perhaps more importantly, to stop the downward trajectory. While things aren’t perfect yet, this has brought bigger results faster than he thought possible.

This keystone habit is one that every single leader can adopt. It’s one I use myself every single day. And the really great news is, it doesn’t take any extra time at all.

The habit I want to share with you today is to change what you are thinking when you approach your conversations at work.

Changing what you are thinking is a keystone habit that will bring benefits over and over again. This isn’t simply because you re-frame how you engage with others and how they engage with you. Changing your thoughts from negative to positive will change the emotions you experience and that will bring physiological benefits. You see, if you think things will go wrong, your body prepares for fight or flight. The hormones produced in your body as a result bring mental stress and physical changes that cause damage.

But what’s the specific change in your habitual thinking that you can adopt right now that will spark a positive chain reaction?

Get your thinking right and everything else will follow

It’s quite simply engage in conversations with the thought that you want to listen and learn, not that you want to criticise and judge. In the pressure of business, it’s so easy to fall into the latter.

That’s exactly what John was doing. Every meeting was about putting up barriers, finding fault and covering his back. He began meetings thinking the worst. John moved from this to beginning every meeting with one simple question in mind, underpinned by the desire to listen and learn.

The question?  ‘Why?’

“Why is this important to you?”

“Why is this getting in the way right now?”

“Why is this difficult to change?”

Note: underpinning this question John’s thinking focussed on the genuine desire to listen and learn. This ensured the right tone of voice and behaviours that clearly indicated positive intent. Ask these same questions thinking about criticising and judging, and the impact of the questions will be entirely different.

You’ll get many benefits

Practising this habit in every conversation brings many other positive habits. You will find it easier to:

  • pay genuine attention to what others have to say
  • allow people to open up rather than shutting them down
  • make fewer statements that put up impenetrable walls
  • understand more about the why, not just the what
  • reduce the number of negative emotions you experience – and so pass on to others

In turn, you will feel less stressed. As a result, you’ll resolve matters more quickly, build better relationships and be a better leader.

And the really, really great thing about this keystone habit? It takes relatively little self-discipline and it zero time to achieve. You simply change your thinking.

How to Get Better Results with Zero Extra Time