Communication Skills

Sometimes a step forward, sometimes a step back. Have you ever noticed that conversations can be just like dances? In the same way, sometimes you’ll have the floor, or it may be your partner’s turn.

As we talk, we take turns listening, asking questions, answering, making suggestions, and accepting or rejecting them…and so on. When we view a conversation as a dance, we can also keep a close eye on the dynamics at play—who’s taking the initiative, who’s following, and whether things are in balance.

As a consultant and trainer with professional dance experience, I feel a dance metaphor is a fun way to understand our conversations. It helps us see why they might go a certain way, and what we can to make them more successful for all partners!

Sometimes, A Conversation Is A Tango

Not all dancers get an equal part on stage. And in the same way, some conversations are not balanced. These conversations—where only one leads and the other follows—are just like a tango. Can you recall any tango conversations you’ve been in?

In some scenarios, of course, this works perfectly. If you are a director, for instance, talking to your assistant, you may find you are talking, or ‘dancing’ with your ideal match. As another example, a tango conversation works well for a pilot and co-pilot. The first indicates the flight status and the other checks it—a tango dynamic is perfectly suited for a context where one is meant to be supporting the other.

Frequently, however, we end up in a tango by accident. And in these situations, it is important to stay alert. For example, if you are a supervisor talking to your team. Here, you may find yourself leading, or contributing, while your employees just wait, murmur, or follow up. If you’re not alert to the tango dynamic, your employees may stop showing initiative, because you always take the first step. And that’s something you don’t really want.

Other Times, A Conversation Is Like A Dance battle

While I’m busy with the metaphors, let’s talk about conversations that are more like a dance battle than anything else. I’m sure you can instantly recall similar experiences you’ve been in before. Those conversations where both parties shout their own thoughts and opinions as loudly as possible to get attention. Where arguments and facts fly around and nobody is willing to give the other space, let alone have the floor.

These conversations remind me of Michael Jackson’s Beat It video, where he intervenes as a kind of mediator to ensure everyone is ultimately doing the same moves as one team. And for me, that says enough about how we should deal with ‘dance battle’ type conversations.

Conversations Featuring The Soloist Dancer

Elsewhere on the metaphorical dance floor, we have people who prefer a solo place in the spotlight. Who don’t actually need other people to keep a conversation going. Who mainly need a silent audience that simply listens, so they can keep up their monologue before enjoying the applause.

A solo dance, as I’ve put it, is great if people need only to be inspired, and where interaction won’t add any value. But solo dances, like monologues, are less desirable if others actually expect an equally balanced conversation and would also like to make their own contribution.

And…Conversational Wallflowers

To conclude, I just want to bring up the wallflowers. At any dance, you also have people who prefer not to join in. In the world of work, these are people who stay aloof during meetings, discussions, or brainstorming sessions; those who don’t “dance along”. Wallflowers would rather be quiet and conceal themselves than draw attention their way by throwing their vision, ideas, or questions into the group.

These people need a helping hand to dance, or even an invite to join in. For them, a safe environment needs to be created, so they can share their input, feel heard, and feel supported.

A lot of metaphors come to the surface when you let yourself feel the beat. Dance metaphors are a great way to look at conversations and see whether you’ve ended up with the right choreography. And, I can imagine there are many more comparisons I haven’t yet mentioned! Will you let me know if they come to you?