The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations

The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations

Dr Mindy Gewirtz

MCC Certified Executive Coach
October 20, 2021
The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations

The primary value drivers throughout the Third industrial revolution were the biological hegemony of survival of the fittest, and its economic analog in capitalism, that profits flow to the shareholders. Biologists, economists, and climatologists today suggest that as a species we did diversify through competitive advantage. However, we evolved by integrating through collaborative advantage to optimize the whole system.

In the Fourth, computer-driven revolution, where the digitization of everything is now occurring, we can recognize signs of adaptivity with the accelerating pace of learning, unlearning, and learning something totally different. McGowan, (2) makes the case not to worry about the ascendency of AI as we have the adaptation advantage of the ability to continuously unlearn and learn new skills more deeply, specifically our human and social skills.

In economics, we have begun to recognize the adaptive advantage of stakeholder capitalism. This refers to all stakeholders-employees, the community, and the environment being considered value drivers, not just shareholders.  What has begun to gain mainstream acceptance in the corporate sector, therefore, is that all stakeholders should share in the abundance. 

The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations
The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations

Pandemic Accelerates Adaptive Advantage

I hypothesize that the 2020 pandemic has exponentially accelerated the significance and acceptance of the adaptation process. Leaders were bonked on the head with the simple yet profound wake-up call. Engaging our humanity, showing empathy, gaining trust through transparency, connecting through conversations, and collaborating across boundaries have become an adaptive mechanism to survival, perhaps more important than new product development or human productivity.  The rationale I suggest is that our humanity is what will provide us with the grit and resilience needed to adapt in a continually uncertain future.

Key Ideas in  Conversation Secrets for Leaders: 21 Secrets that Leaders Do Not Use Enough, (3) authored with my colleagues, @Stephen Hamilton-Clarke and @Carrie Gallant, which recently launched on Amazon.

The pandemic personally triggered my adaptive itch to make a larger impact as a change catalyst. I wanted to go beyond my meaningful coaching work with smart leaders who were anxious and stressed out and worried about their people. The calling finally nudged me into writing the book that had been percolating in my head for a year. We connected the dots of biological and economic/organizational adaptivity with adaptive cultures and adaptive conversations that create trust, connection, and collaboration at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

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The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations
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The foundation of this narrative is that conversations are a primary means for adaptivity to get embodied, as 75% of all work gets done through conversations. Klemmer's (4) study cites that “50%–80% of the workday is spent in communicating, two-thirds of that in talking. (4) Noah Zander of Quantified culls from other studies and finds that 80% of the workday is spent in communication. It is broken up the following way. (5)

- 28 percent: the portion of each workday dedicated to reading and responding to emails

- 26 percent: the portion of each workday the typical Fortune 500 CEO spends on the phone.

- 50 percent: the portion of a senior manager’s typical workday dedicated to meetings. (The same research finds that organizations spend 15 percent of their collective time in meetings.)

What are Adaptive Conversations?

My initial thinking is that Adaptive Conversations are simply the characteristics of conversations that potentiate the components of Ability, Characteristics, and Environment in the A.C.E. model of Adaptability (6)

- The core thesis of the book my colleagues and I wrote is that trust, connection, and collaboration and the neuroscience that underpins them can drive the adaptive future of work. And that most of the work is done through conversations on the individual, team, and organizational level.

- Could we suggest that the drivers of trust embedded in conversations that create psychological safety and trigger in the prefrontal cortex, can influence to what degree we have adaptivity skills like mindset, mental flexibility, and resilience?

- Could the type of conversations that quell our fear central in the amygdala, influence our innate characteristics such as emotional range, hope, and motivational style? We know that when the amygdala and our primitive brain gang up on our executive function as in VUCA situations especially when accompanied with anger or frustration, our thinking brain shuts down. Learning how to have adaptive conversations that recognize our triggers beforehand -bring awareness and intent and then we make a choice as to the type of conversation we have, can have a big impact on thinking style? I am doing this with a senior client now, who is brilliantly logical and analytical and understands others clearly. It is his conversations that we are deconstructing and he is regenerating, so his thinking style is more “usable” rather than experienced as obstructive.

I have generated more questions than answers, as these are nascent thoughts to be dreamed about at night and shared in many conversations during the day.

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The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations
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The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations
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What are the Benefits of Adaptive Conversations?

- Taking this a step further, I suggest that adaptive conversations encourage adaptive mindsets and taking agency.

- Adaptivity develops as leaders unlearn old ways of giving feedback, leading teams, creating change-which all require conversations.

- Leaders can more easily flex into uncertainty and the unknown, because of the psychological safety that comes with conversations that build trust.

- New, hybrid ways of operationalizing the future of work can develop because of the deep, new ways of thinking, like the conversations that emerge using the Future Wheel exercise.  And the new relationships that come with connection and collaboration.

What can you do to make a difference?

- Take a moment and reflect on your own capacity for adaptive conversations.

- Support someone to reach their full human potential or show gratitude to someone who encouraged yours.

- And if this inspires you to learn more, I invite you to sign-up for the book on our landing page and take advantage of the upcoming 21 videos in the vault.

I welcome your questions and comments at

The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations
The Pandemic Made Me Do It: Adaptive Conversations
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1. Andreas Weber, Enlivenment: Towards a Fundamental Shift in the Concepts, Nature, Culture, and Politics, an Essay, Volume 31 of the Publication Series Ecology (Published by the Heinrich Boll Foundation, Berlin 2013.

2. Heather E. McGowan and Chris Shipley, The Adaptation Advantage, Wiley, 2020.

3. Gewirtz. Mindy L., Hamilton-Clarke, Steve, Gallant. Carrie. Conversation Secrets for Tomorrow’s Leaders: 21 Obvious Secrets Leaders Do Not Use Enough

4. Klemmer, E. T., Snyder, FW, Journal of Communication, Volume 22, June 1972, Pages 142-158.

5. Zander, Noah, How Much of Our Work Days Do We Spend Communicating?Quantified Communications, Austin Texasfile:///C:/Users/Owner/Documents/Collaborative%20Networks/HOGAN/ADAPTABILITY/

6. Thornley, Ross, Raven, Mike. The AQ Model

About the Author

Dr. Mindy, is an MCC certified executive coach, author and entrepreneur. She is President of Collaborative Networks, an executive coaching, and leadership development firm. She is Adjunct Faculty at Lewis University and Faculty and Honorary Director at Potential Genesis, Chennai India. Mindy currently teaches Coaching Methodologies in the Organizational Leadership Masters program, and her passion is coaching executives in leadership positions. Clients apply a systemic approach to integrating their purpose with impact in both their professional and personal lives. Executive coaching is often complemented by team coaching or leadership development workshops to amplify impact in the larger system. Working at the C-Suite level, we coach and consult in tech, government, nonprofits, and financial services.