Michael Sterling

What’s Your Conversational IQ?

Is there such a thing as conversational intelligence? And how important is conversational IQ? It could be that some leaders are naturally more adept at the art of conversation. It’s certainly true that we all could improve our ability to engage and influence others through conversations.


“Human beings are the most highly social species on this planet. When we succeed in connecting deeply with others – heart to heart and head to head – trust is at its all-time high, and people work in concert in extraordinary ways.” Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results – Judith E. Glaser, (Bibliomotion, Inc., 2013)


Scientists are discovering how conversations cause a rapid cascade of neurochemicals in the brain, laying the foundation for trust or distrust. To remain competitive, leaders must understand the powerful conversational rituals that prime the brain for trust, partnership and mutual success.


Conversations are more than a vehicle for sharing information. As social beings, our interactions involve words that trigger powerful physical and emotional responses. Our words can facilitate healthy, trusting conversations — or cause others to shut down with fear, caution and worry.


In the work I do coaching public accountants, I pay careful attention to how professionals use language in conversations, both with themselves, with me and in dialogue with others.When you promote shared understanding through conversations, you can unleash others’ full potential.


As Glaser explains: “The premise of Conversational Intelligence is: To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations!”


Our minds toggle through a series of questions to determine the kind of engagement we’ll have with each other.


5 Subconscious Questions

Even before we open our mouths, we size up other people and determine whether we can trust them. In a fraction of a second, you sense whether you need to:

  1. Protect: Do I need to be on guard — and how?
  2. Connect: Can I trust this person?
  3. Belong: Where do I belong? Do I fit in?
  4. Be Strong: What do I need to be successful?
  5. Partner: How do I create value with others?

This process takes place between the brain’s primitive emotional centers and the neocortex, its seat of reason and judgment.

Bad conversations trigger our distrust network; good conversations trigger our trust network. This influences what we say, as well as how and why we say it. Our trust and distrust networks shape each conversation’s outcome.


Conversation is communication and communication is an essential soft skill necessary for career success. So, we must all become aware of sharpening our conversational IQ. The trust triggered by good conversations is the foundation upon which our career ladders are built. Frankly, those who aren’t trustworthy are not seen as worthy of leading engagements, mentoring or advising clients. Often, accounting professionals only focus on their technical skills for career success and neglect developing traits such as leadership and resilience. In reality, most CPA firms place high value on strong soft skills as I’ve detailed in my article, “Six Soft Skills Every Public Accountant Needs.”


New brain research is revealing the processes we go through in our minds in the blink of an eye, similar to the premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s book by the same name – “Blink.”


When you think each time you hold a conversation you’re triggering those five subconscious questions in the mind of the other person, you become aware of the importance of smart conversations and your conversational IQ.


What do you think about when you’re having a conversation? I’d love to hear about what goes through your mind. Are you focused on what you’re saying and what you’re going to say… or on the other person?


Interested in more insights on career development? Check out the Career Wellness library on the SterlingFreeman website. 



Go To SterlingFreeman - Career Wellness

© 2022 Sterling Freeman   |  Privacy Policy