Spiral-up your conversations

Always approach your conversations from a place of partnership to create shared understanding.
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

In today’s innovation-driven world, the art of conversation has never been more critical. Whether in the realm of business, creativity, or personal development, how we communicate can dramatically influence the outcomes of our interactions. This is where the concept of “spiraling up” comes into play—a transformative approach that elevates conversations, fosters psychological safety, and unleashes the potential for creativity and growth.

What is Spiraling Up?

We’ve all been part of a conversation that started light and innocent but descended, or “spiraled down,” into an unproductive or unfulfilling conclusion.

I like to say, “Spiral-up!” when coaching people to facilitate productive and positive conversations. It’s the dynamic process of engaging in conversations that are productive, clear, and increasingly energetic and collaborative. It’s the feeling you get when dialogue moves seamlessly, building upon each idea, each question, and each shared experience. This approach is rooted in positivity, mutual respect, and the genuine desire to understand and contribute.

The Impact of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the critical core of fostering a culture of creativity, innovation, and engagement. This safety ensures individuals feel secure to voice their ideas, ask questions, and learn from mistakes without fear of judgment. When teams operate in a psychologically safe environment, they’re more open and vulnerable, leading to richer and more innovative discussions. Such an environment not only boosts creativity but also facilitates learning and strengthens team cohesion. Leaders play a critical role in building this foundation, actively promoting an atmosphere where risks are embraced and authenticity is celebrated, paving the way for genuine engagement and groundbreaking ideas.

Battle against insecurity and defensiveness by fostering psychological safety and encouraging honest, forthright, and productive conversation.

How to spiral up your conversations

Embracing several key practices and mindsets is crucial to spiral up conversations effectively. These not only foster a positive and creative environment but also ensure that conversations are productive, engaging, and continuously building toward innovative outcomes.

Lead with curiosity

Entering conversations with a mindset of curiosity opens a door to a room full of possibilities. It signals others that their thoughts and ideas are valued and worth exploring. When we ask genuine questions and show an eagerness to understand our colleagues’ experiences and perspectives, we lay the groundwork for a dialogue that’s rich in diversity and creativity. Curiosity prompts us to challenge assumptions and consider new ideas, which is essential for problem-solving and innovation.

Stay curious by staying in the moment and navigating conversations with a sense of wonder.

Be a cheerleader

The role of a cheerleader in conversations is pivotal. It’s about more than offering praise; it’s about recognizing and reinforcing the value of each contribution, thereby boosting confidence and encouraging further participation. This support helps to foster an environment where team members are willing to share bold ideas and take risks, knowing they have the backing of their peers and leaders. Being a cheerleader for your team means actively seeking opportunities to affirm effort and creativity, cultivating a culture of appreciation and mutual respect.

Cheerleading should feel like (but not actually be) a warm embrace of encouragement.

Collaborate and co-create

True innovation often springs from collaborative efforts where diverse perspectives are brought together to tackle a challenge. By treating conversations as opportunities to collaborate and co-create, we harness the collective intelligence of the group. This involves not only sharing ideas but also building on them together, refining and enhancing them through collective insight. Such an approach ensures that all voices are heard and considered, leading to more well-rounded and innovative solutions.

Have collaborative conversations to reach a common goal together.

Practice active and reflective listening

Active and reflective listening are the cornerstones of effective communication. By fully engaging with the speaker and reflecting their message back to them, we validate their experience and demonstrate understanding. This form of listening encourages deeper sharing and fosters trust, as participants feel genuinely heard and understood. It’s a powerful tool for spiraling up conversations, as it creates a space where ideas can be freely exchanged and explored without fear of dismissal or misunderstanding.

Take care to tell conversation partners what you’re hearing from them.

Employ the “Yes, and …” technique

Originating from improv theater, the “Yes, and …” technique is a powerful creative catalyst. It involves accepting what another person has said (“Yes”) and then adding to it (“And”) to build on their idea. This method encourages a positive, additive approach to conversations, where ideas are expanded upon rather than shut down. It’s a practice that not only fuels innovation but also strengthens relationships by fostering an atmosphere of support and mutual creativity.

Build on the ideas of your conversation partner by seeking ways to build upon their contributions.

Navigating Challenges

Spiraling up your conversations promises to transform communication and collaboration, yet it faces challenges, particularly from directive communication.

This approach, while necessary at times, can quash the exploratory spirit crucial for innovation and make team members feel sidelined. It’s vital to balance giving direction and fostering open dialogue to counteract this. Creating a culture of mutual respect and encouraging risk-taking can help maintain the energy and collaborative spirit of spiraling up. Equipping team members with effective communication skills is also key, allowing for a blend of assertiveness, empathy, and active listening that supports a more harmonious and productive environment.

Spiral-up your conversations is a call to action for anyone looking to foster deeper connections, drive creativity, and encourage a culture of innovation and openness. By adopting the principles of spiraling up, leaders and team members alike can create an environment where every conversation is an opportunity for growth, collaboration, and transformative outcomes.

Matt Adams

A founding partner and Head of Creative Services at Territory, Matt is a master visual communicator and an acclaimed creator and director. He has a deep background in human-centered experience design, brand development, communication programs, and blended learning systems for Fortune 100 clients. He is a veteran co-pilot of the C-suite and seasoned expert in transforming great ideas into award-winning product.

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