Double-click for purposeful conversations

Communication  Leadership
12 March, 2018

By discovering what the other person feels and understands, you can break through your blind spots as a communicator

Have you been in discussions where one or two individuals are taking up most of the air time – telling and not really asking? With team members talking past each other, focused on just articulating their point of view and engaging in monologues? Or people making assumptions and jumping to conclusions?

Unfortunately, this happens too often, and conversations end up getting diluted or become too superficial. And this becomes a symptom of a lack of respect within the team or in the organisation.

I recently came across the concept of “double-clicking”, which I found simple and yet incredibly powerful. It is defined by organisational anthropologist Judith Glaser, who has written a great book, ‘Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results’. This is how she describes how she coined the term:

I came up with this concept when I noticed what happened when people working on their computers double-clicked on a folder. When they double-clicked, all of these things were inside it that they hadn’t seen before or didn’t remember they’d saved. I wondered, “What if I teach leaders to follow up with questions (double-click) to confirm understanding?” This is crucial because often we assume everyone has the same understanding. Unless we double-click and confirm that we understand each other, we are just assuming that we understand and things can quickly go awry.

So, drawing from this, I want to focus my message this week on the importance of Conversational Intelligence and how we can use “double-clicking” to become more effective communicators. 

What is Conversational Intelligence?

Glaser defines it as the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. It is through language and conversations she says, that we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow, and build partnerships with each other to create and transform our societies. She pegs this “wisdom of conversations” as the most powerful skill hardwired into all of us. Look at it through this lens, and you will understand why it becomes even more important for us as leaders to think hard about how we leverage and navigate conversations.

What I find particularly interesting about Glaser’s concepts, is how she fundamentally links neuroscience to conversations. In her book, she shares that when we express ourselves, our bodies release a higher level of what she calls “reward hormones”. This is why it seems almost cathartic. The more we express, the better we feel. It’s an addiction of sorts and our bodies start craving for more. So, we talk on more. But even as we do so, and are enjoying the high, what we may or may not realise, is that the people we are talking to start feeling disengaged. While you may not find that so in itself surprising, note this. According to Glaser, these feelings of being cut off or marginalised – that we are consequently inspiring in these other people as a consequence of the conversational dynamics – result in the release of the same neurochemicals as physical pain. So, being rejected in conversations can really hurt (!) It does more than just leaving them feeling ignored. It sends them into a “fight, flight” mode.

What stands in the way of Conversational Intelligence?

Glaser identifies these 5 blind spots as major derailers:

  1. The first involves an assumption that others see what we see, feel what we feel, and think what we think
  2. The second is the failure to realise that fear, trust, and distrust change how we see and interpret reality, and therefore how we talk about it
  3. The third is the inability to stand in each other’s shoes when we are fearful or upset
  4. The fourth is the assumption that we remember what others say, when we actually remember what we think about what others say
  5. The fifth is the assumption that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact it resides in the listener

How does “double-clicking” help break through these blind spots?

Double-clicking, with the intention to share and discover what the other person feels and means, can be transformative for how you approach conversations. It opens up a safer space for you and the other person to connect more deeply and purposefully.

One of the basic barriers to this, is that often we go into conversations looking to confirm what we already know is wrong, to back up our own arguments, and justify or defend how we are feeling. Double-clicking shifts that lens to searching for more collaborative approaches and outcomes. And by doing so, it helps break the blind spots that I mentioned above. Glaser rightly points out that many of these blind spots are born of “reality gaps”:

Your reality and mine are not the same. You and I have different experiences, we know different people, we came from different parts of the world, and we use different language to label our world. Even those of us who are in the same room at the same time will take away different impressions of our time together. That is why culture is so important. It creates the conversational rituals and practices that harmonise our experiences, create a shared language, and help us bridge and connect with others more fully—it creates a shared reality.

So, what can you do to start “double-clicking” in conversations? How can you raise your level of Conversational Intelligence? Here are some of Glaser’s suggestions:

1. Minimise the time you spend owning the conversational space

Try this consciously, especially if you are the leader. Talk less. Don’t rule the conversation. Instead, be mindful and look for ways to include other people. Find ways for them to contribute and draw them in. Just by increasing the time they spend more actively engaged in the conversation, you are allowing them to come up with more meaningful insights. This can be very beneficial overall for the kind of output that you seek from these conversations.

2. Ask open-ended questions

You’ve heard this before, but really try practicing it. It is very easy to get swept up in your own opinion and the want to drive the conversation. Instead, ask questions that are open-ended and provoke responses. Give some these a try – What influenced your thinking? What ideas might be valuable for us to discuss? How can we address this challenge together?

3. Ask questions to which you have no answers

 If you, as the leader, have already decided on your stand and you’re not willing to change it, then why have a meeting at all? It will only make people more cynical. So, if you are hosting a conversation, then do so on questions and topics that you don’t have the answers to either. Truly try to co-create solutions. It will help you stay curious and therefore engaged.

4. Listen to connect, not judge or reject

The first two pointers aren’t going to work, unless you approach this really willing to look for answers and be objective. Here’s how Glaser describes it working:

When we listen to connect we connect through our heart, and prefrontal cortex, it also activates our centers of empathy, openness and receptivity to others points of view. When we listen to judge, we are listening to see when we fit our ideas into the conversation, we look for what is missing in the other person’s perspective and we often ‘trump them’ which creates resistance and ‘lock down’.

5. Priming for trust

If you want people to speak up, then help create the space and context for it. This is where being able to connect on a personal front helps. When you are ‘priming for trust’, you’re helping people let down their guard. Think about it. When you start a meeting, do you jump into the work discussion right away? Or do you try and connect first? If you don’t, why not try it out? It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Just ask a couple of questions about how the other person is, if nothing else. Use this is to build more and then watch how the quality of your conversations changes.

Double click can help you connect deeper and impact your relationships in a positive manner. So, do give it a shot.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts.


  • Samir Suryawanshi says:

    Hi Vivek,

    Thanks for writing this one. I guess I have been party to this crime and I realise this all the more when I address an audience which is culturally different. I was wondering what I should do and suddenly this blog came up today. Clear message for me is 1) Don’t assume what you know is right 2) Don’t assume what you feel is what the audience feels 3) Use of lesser words, slower pace with an objective of creating space for the audience to ponder/ question/ self assess.

  • Urvashi Jain says:

    This article was particularly nice because it’s very relevant in any professional set up.
    Connecting it with neural science made it all the more convincing.
    I have been reading Monday 8am since six months now and it’s amazing how it’s published without fail that too with research gone behind it and not just a unilateral point of view.


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