Just before Christmas Roger Schwartz published "Giving and Receiving Gifts in Conversation" in his Fundamental Change newsletter. Jim Bruce included this with permission in his Tuesday Readings email, but let me provide a summary. I think this is tied very closely to coaching:
What is a "conversation gift"?
It's something a person says to you that helps you better understand how the other person is thinking and feeling.
How to recognize a "gift"?
Look for times in a conversation where the other person says something that bothers you, confuses you, or that you disagree with. These are conversation "gifts".
Some "gifts" are easy to recognize because they come wrapped in a compliment: "You did a great job on that presentation to the directors." The "gift" is the opportunity to learn more about what the colleague thought was great: "Thanks. I'm curious, what was it that I did that you thought was great? I'm asking because this way I can make sure to keep on doing it."
Others "gifts" may be hard to spot in a conversation. Imagine doing a performance review with a staff person, and you hear: "I would have achieved all my goals this year if I had support from you." This is still a "gift", an opportunity to understand the other person. Respond with curiosity and compassion: "I thought I was supporting you. Tell me more; what are you thinking I was doing or not doing that didn't support you?"