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An Open Space for Co-Creation: The Impact of Healthy Boundaries in Transformational Conversation


Have you ever been in a relationship with a colleague or manager who couldn’t seem to hear anything you had to say? It always felt like they thought they were right, and you were wrong. They never seemed to really listen to your point of view to actually consider whether you might indeed be right or at least be contributing something of value. It wasn’t so much that you minded being wrong, as that simply meant you had something to learn; but rather that the other person advocated their own point of view without considering integrating the new information you brought to the table into their thought process.

As I considered how I might transition our conversation from boundaries to having productive conversations, I realized they are integrally related. Having a healthy system of boundaries in our lives allows us to engage in conversation with others without responding defensively because we feel threatened. It also allows us to share in ways that do not trigger negative responses such as defensiveness or shutting down.

When people with healthy boundary systems engage in conversation, they can co-create dreams, visions and realities together. They don’t operate from a place of fear and defensiveness, but rather trust, openness and confidence. Each individual is aware that their identity does not rise and fall on the outcome of the conversation. Because they know where they end and others begin, there is space in the room for new ideas to be co-created.

In her book Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser breaks conversation down into three levels: I, II and III. Level I is exchanging data and information. This type of communication is great when verifying a set of instructions for creating a proposal or asking your team leader the budget of a project. However, it has no transformational power in conversation.

Level II is working with power and influence. This level of communication is great between the crossing guard and the children and cars in a school zone. It is necessary for the children and cars to follow the crossing guard’s instructions in order for everyone to remain safe, but this type of communication does not promote transformational conversations that can lead to new ideas, mindset shifts, and collaboration. Leaders who lead in level II get stuck on thinking or worse yet, insisting they are right and others are wrong.

The third level is the one we desire. This is where there is space for the co-creation of new ideas. In the words of Judith, when we are in Level III conversation, “we are communicating with others to transform and shape reality together.” [emphasis mine]

Level III is where trust exists. Not just trust for others, but trust that my value is not contingent on whether I win or lose. Confidence that my sense of worth is intact whether the dreams, visions and realities created are five percent my own or ninety-five percent my own. Confidence that it doesn’t rob from who I am or my value when my reality is transformed by conversations with those around me. Confidence to give up the desire to be right for the greater good of the team.

A team operating with Level III conversational intelligence has members who are focused on mutual success instead of the pursuit of implementing their own individual ideas. These individuals have abandoned leading via commanding, controlling and coercing. They are open to input from others. They believe two brains are better than one. They have stepped into a space where they can co-create reality with others.

And this is the direction we are headed in our conversation on this blog:

How do we change our environments into a place where people are not only listening to the ideas of others, but they are working together for mutual success?

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