Judith Glaser (1946-2018): Founder and CEO at Creating We; Author of Conversational Intelligence®️.
At Forward Thinking Workplaces, we are discovering the people, insights, and strategies that lead to Forward Thinking minds, leaders, and workplaces of the future — today!
Editor's note: Judith Glaser was one of the first three people we interviewed in 2016 for Forward Thinking Workplaces. This interview series would not exist if it hadn't been for her tremendous support and backing of the project. We are forever grateful for the influence she had on us and our work.
How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Judith Glaser: That’s a big menu of the most aspirational things people could want in a company and a company culture.
Human beings have such a need to be heard and listened to and to be able to do things that are innovative even if they’re making mistakes, but they want to be able to have that option and everybody working and learning from that.
You talked about things that are on everybody’s aspirational list for a great company. So the question is, “How do we lead to that?” How do we help leaders understand that that state of being is hard-wired into every human being?
When we say some people are more creative than others, and that’s why we have to bring out more creativity for them than other people. I’ve worked with accounting firms, which have now become huge consulting firms. They are not just doing accounting, but they’re in the world of transformation now. From the very beginning, I remember doing some assessments with some of the people in the room, and when they didn’t get high scores using these assessments on things like innovation, they said, you can’t ask us to be that way.
We have so many misunderstandings between what human beings thrive with and strive for versus how we label people to appreciate or not appreciate specific environments.
This is a time where we have to crack open a new model, a new algorithm in our heads and in our hearts about what it means to have the kind of environments you’re talking about through your questions.
Every human being thrives in them, whether you’re an accountant or see yourself more as analytical. That doesn’t stop you from appreciating and being excited by participating in very innovative things.
I think we’re now at a time where we need to step back and take some of the judgments and labels out and imagine creating those environments for everybody and for everybody’s health and for everybody’s growth. The last thing I’ll say is that people that live in healthy environments live longer, have fewer illnesses that come up, and knock on their door every other day, so I think this topic is worthy of more conversation.
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Judith: When people join an organization, they do so because they think that the organization will help them find a new role or new identity in the world. They move into a company to become like that company or become a better contributor.
But I think sometimes leaders don’t think about it that way. They don’t go the entire run of what their employees want. They want to bring in new employees to help with certain things, specific projects, and so forth. Every time a new employee joins a company, there’s a huge shift in what their identity is going to be. They will either come out of this company feeling validated and honored for what they can bring, or they’re going to come out feeling, “Ok, we were just another person that was put into this particular job because there was a key need there.” Still, companies often don’t give them the full breadth of understanding of the culture and being part of it.
When new employees come in, the bottom line is to make sure that they get an orientation to what the company is all about and what the projects are all about. Don’t just throw them in and thank them for joining, but really help them get the context of where they fit into the bigger picture of what’s going on. That creates a better employee. That gives them a sense of importance. When people have roles and things that they can do that are clear in their minds, it changes everything.
What do people really lack and long for at work?
Judith: There are a lot of commercials on TV that talk about “see me.” They have different people say, “see me.” That struck me as part of what it is for employees. When people join an organization, they want to be seen and valued.
What people lack and long for at work is connection with other people. They want to be respected. They want to be appreciated. They want to be seen.
I think this question and the last one have a lot in common. People like to be appreciated. If you want to have one word, it’s appreciation. But I think it’s more than that for the employee. They not only want to be appreciated, but they want to be part of a winning team. They want to have an important role. They want to share their ideas and engage with people on topics, even if it means disagreeing with the boss. I call them “Expressing Conversations,” where people can really express what’s on their mind and really add value to an organization—not just become a number in an organization.
What is the most important question leaders should ask employees?
Judith: How can I help you be successful?
What’s the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Judith: What else can I learn? Where else can I learn more about the company and what the company is doing so I represent the company and that I am part of the change and transformation that’s going on.
People don’t want to be left out. They want to get into as many of the right meetings and subgroups that they need to be in to do the best they can do. It’s engagement at its deepest level, having a role, and having a place to fit in. Then being able to contribute to lots of people.
What is the most important question we can ask ourselves?
Judith: How can I tell the truth? What’s on my mind? Is this environment allowing me to do that, or do I feel like I have to be pent up and not share things that are really important but maybe different from what the organization is all about?
It’s being able to have a voice that is so important. Can I have a voice in this organization?
You have a very clear point of view that sounds like it’s “we centric” in nature. Can you tell us more about that?
Judith: In all of your questions, you asked questions that helped us understand how to join an organization and how to get the best out of others. All of that in my mind is moving from an “I” centric perspective to a “We” centric perspective, which is how we create healthy environments for everyone. That’s “We.”
The work that I do has been evolved over 35 years. My company is Benchmark Communication. We’ve been studying individuals, teams, and organizations, how they talk to each other, what holds them together, and the successful patterns that enable a company to survive and thrive. We look at the economic shifts and have companies that grow their revenue and value to the world. That’s done when you have the feel in an environment. A feeling that people are embraced and that they’re part of a winning team.
My company and the colleagues that work with me have been studying how do we shift from “I” centric to “We” centric. Out of this work has come several books.
The first book was Creating We: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking and Build a Healthy, Thriving Organization. The second book is the DNA of Leadership: Leverage Your Instincts To Communicate, Differentiate, Innovate, which talks about how leaders can, in fact, move (like your questions) from “I” centric to “We” centric and become more sensitive to the impact that they have on their employees and their companies and clients as well.
The last book, which is my most recent book, which has probably had the most significant play of all, is called Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Have Extraordinary Results. This book is already being translated into 11 languages. People ask me to speak in different parts of the world due to it, and it’s all about the neuroscience behind people moving from “I” to “We.” What’s going on inside of our brains, what’s going on inside of our hearts, so that we learn the difference between the “I” centric world and the “We” centric world. The book is filled with exercises and things that people can do to help a company move from conflicts or silos or other things that might be separating people to coming into an environment where you’re being received, embraced, appreciated, and part of this concept of being a winning team.
People are now are asking if I can tell if a company is conversationally intelligent? I actually can because when I go into companies and deconstruct the conversations that people are having throughout the workplace, it can be clear to me. I share with the CEOs and senior executives I have an opportunity to talk about a difference in the physical field and the neurochemical area hidden behind in our brains. Once we understand how ripple effects from bad conversations occur and how ripple effects from good conversations occur, people have a choice now to understand what kind of environment they want to create at work.
You can see the bottom line success results in companies that are “We” centric. They really support people being open and transparent with each other. They also focus on relationships before tasks and really stand under the same reality and build visions of shared success. Another characteristic is that they tell the truth when they’re not on the same page and working to fix it rather than judge people as stupid or all sorts of other things that are our habit patterns. All of these things are so extraordinary because they not only hit the bottom line, but they hit people’s lives not only at work but outside of work.
In conclusion, that’s what’s behind a lot of the questions you asked me, and a lot of the answers that I gave you are: How do we understand what “conversational intelligence” really is? And how do we learn to build trust inside companies so that we can tap into the best conversations that people could have with each other?