High Quality Connections

In a program for vice presidents of a large corporation, we had an exciting morning of learning about leadership.  At lunch there was a lot of energy and many observations about the topic.  One woman spoke up and shared a very important question.
“I have become increasingly interested in leadership.  In recent years I have begun to focus on and observe the best leaders around me.  One of the things I have noticed is they help people think for themselves and they do it in a way that creates a natural desire for change.  I am convinced the way they create the desire is by asking questions.  They ask really good questions.  So I have been thinking about it a lot, and it has become clear that I lack the skill.  I really want to learn how to ask good questions.  How do you learn to do it?”
It is tempting to answer this query by listing a set of good questions.  If you search the internet, you can find many such lists.
The key is not a set of questions; it is understanding an underlying principle.  Leaders accelerate learning by altering the content of conventional communications.  Leaders create great conversations by establishing what my friend Jane Dutton calls high quality connections.
You do this by finding commonality in assumed differentiation.  For years I have trained executives to listen to each other tell their most authentic stories.  After an hour of doing so, participants are shocked by the power of the high quality connections.
Yet when I ask them to consider the implication of the exercise outside the classroom, they go quiet.  They cannot imagine creating high quality connections at work where all the emphasis is on timed conversation and task completion.  The paradox is that in networks of high quality connections, trust is higher and so is productivity.


  • What is a high quality connection?
  • What do questions have to do with creating them?
  • What connection could you improve today?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

3 comments on “High Quality Connections

  1. Bob, I am struggling to comprehend you here.
    “You do this by finding commonality in assumed differentiation” has lost me – I am being completely authentic!

    Many of us as your readers are non-academic, not in management or even leadership, and we float in a sea of mediocrity and worse still, cultures that assume default hierarchical management everywhere at every level in every organization and we desperately need clarity of understanding to move forwards in unofficial leadership of ourselves before we can attempt anything greater beyond ourselves!

    I understand about conventional communications – often egotistical/power playing/assumptions of hierarchy/lack of trust/self-centered/depleting/confrontational etc, etc and that trust is the highest level of communication that we can and should attempt to aspire to.

    Please can you help.

    But don’t stop your (stimulating to action) blogs!,

    Richard Flew

  2. Great honesty Richard and I too found that phrase that you mention, a little challenging. I couldn’t let it rest and found a wonderful article by Jane Dutton, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/fostering_high_quality_connections

    For me, the Jane Dutton article really expands the concept that Robert raised and I’m glad that the ‘assumed differentiation’ phrase and your post Richard, prompted my curiosity to develop a deeper understanding.

    Thanks Richard, thanks Robert.

    1. Apologies for replying to myself and Greg!
      But I had an experience recently of a situation within an organisation hierarchically managed and where the high quality connections mentioned by Jane Dutton simply cannot exist because everyone is not being honest, triangulating about others, yet imagining that everything is alright. This is normal.

      And it came to me that I have never had a high quality connecting conversation where I could experience “finding commonality in assumed differentiation” with another human being, except in this blog!

      In other words the absence of high quality connections, where as Jane says, “mutual positive regard, trust, and active engagement on both sides” are anticipated and practised, suddenly highlighted the meaning for me of the sincere trust and openness underpinning the “finding commonality (discovery of higher purpose?) in assumed differentiation (mutual positive regard?)” connections that Bob mentioned. I hope my slowness of understanding may encourage others! Thanks for your article link, Greg.

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